Synopses & Reviews
A leading historian offers a sweeping new account of the African American experience over four centuries
Four great migrations defined the history of black people in America: the violent removal of Africans to the east coast of North America known as the Middle Passage; the relocation of one million slaves to the interior of the antebellum South; the movement of more than six million blacks to the industrial cities of the north and west a century later; and since the late 1960s, the arrival of black immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, South America, and Europe. These epic migrations have made and remade African American life.
Ira Berlin's magisterial new account of these passages evokes both the terrible price and the moving triumphs of a people forcibly and then willingly migrating to America. In effect, Berlin rewrites the master narrative of African America, challenging the traditional presentation of a linear path of progress. He finds instead a dynamic of change in which eras of deep rootedness alternate with eras of massive movement, tradition giving way to innovation. The culture of black America is constantly evolving, affected by (and affecting) places as far away from one another as Biloxi, Chicago, Kingston, and Lagos. Certain to garner widespread media attention, The Making of African America is a bold new account of a long and crucial chapter of American history.
"Berlin (Many Thousands Gone) offers a fresh reading of American history through the prism of the 'great migrations that made and remade African and African American life.' The first was 'the forcible deportation' of Africans to North America' in the 17th and 18th centuries, followed by their 'forced transfer' into the American interior during the 19th century. Then came the migration of the mid-20th century as African-Americans fled the South for the urban North, and the arrival of continental Africans and people of African descent from the Caribbean during the latter part of the 20th century. Berlin sees migration and the reshaping of communities to their new environments as central to the African-American experience. Movement is a matter of numbers, and Berlin provides them in detail kept fully readable by his attention to the cultural products of the shifts. In particular, he follows the church as it moves, the music as it takes on new themes, and kinship as it broadens. Berlin's careful scholarship is evidenced in his rich notes; the ordinary reader will be pleased by the fluidity and clarity of his prose." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Praise for Many Thousands Gone
"Berlin...brings together in a magisterial synthesis much of what has now been learned about slave life during its first two centuries within the present United States."
-Edmund S. Morgan, New York Review of Books
"In this masterly work, Ira Berlin has demonstrated that earlier North American slavery had many different forms and meaning that varied over time and from place to place. Many Thousands Gone illuminates the first 200 years of African-American history more effectively than any previous study."
-George Frederickson, New York Times Book Review
"Many Thousands Gone is likely to remain for years to come the standard account of the first two centuries of slavery in the area that became the United States."
-Eric Foner, London Review of Books
"The result of Berlin's labours is a vital book, not simply in making sense of historical complexity, but in advancing a new and distinctive argument about the shaping of North America...the most original and most persuasive overall study of North American slavery for a very long time...It is, quite simply, a book of major importance for all historians of North America."
-James Walvin, Times Higher Education
"The result is the best general history we now have of the 'peculiar institution' during its first 200 years...Many Thousands Gone is a remarkable book, one that beautifully integrates two centuries of history over a wide geographical area. It is a benchmark study from which students will learn and with which scholars will grapple for many years to come."
-Peter Kolchin, Los Angeles Times Book
Recipient of the Bancroft Prize from Columbia University
Recipient of the Frederick Douglass Book Prize
Winner of the Elliott Rudwick Prize of the Organization of American Historians
Finalist, National Book Critics Circle for Nonfiction
Recipient of the Frank L. and Harriet C. Oswley Award of the Southern Historical Association
Praise for Generations of Captivity
"Ira Berlin has written what will undoubtedly become one of the indispensible books on North American slavery. Generations of Captivity traces the history of this dismal institution from its 17th-century origins to its 19th-century destruction in the maelstrom of civil war. He comes closer than any other contemporary historian to giving us an opportunity-in a single, readable volume-to come to grips with a subject very few of us wish to think about but which all of us surely need to consider: how millions of white Americans over the course of three centuries came to hold millions of black Americans in chattel bondage while managing to lose nary a moment's sleep over their complicity in this monstrous enterprise...Berlin has given us a moving, insightful account of slavery in the United States. Readers will not soon forget the story he has told, nor should they. We still live with the consequences of this institution, and we should understand what slavery meant to the generations of captivity who lived it."
-Charles B. Dew, New York Times Book Review
"Berlin focuses on changes over time as it affected patterns of African American demography, family and community life, religious beliefs and practices, and labor in the field and workshop. In the process, he illuminates the rich complexity of slavery as it is shaped by various colonial powers (Spanish, French, British) in port cities and in rural areas...This compact volume offers an impressive overview of historic transformations and regional variations in the institution."
-Jacqueline Jones, Washington Post
"Where Generations of Captivity differs from previous histories is in its emphatically bottom-up approach, looking at slavery almost exclusively from the point of view of the slaves themselves, and in its relentless emphasis on the institutions cruelty."
-Howard Temperley, Times Literary Supplement
"Over the years Ira Berlin has established himself as one of the foremost scholars of North American slavery. His last book, Many Thousands Gone (1998), was concerned with the first two centuries of slavery in the United States. Generations of Captivity covers a lot of the same territory, but in doing so takes the story up to the American Civil War (1861-5) and beyond. The result is an absorbing work that demonstrates convincingly that slavery was not a static or monolithic structure but an evolving institution that changed dramatically between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries...As one might expect, Berlin pieces together this complex history with great skill and authority. He rarely falters and, just as important, contrives to make the vast literature on North American slavery vital and accessible. Generations of Captivity is more than a work of synthesis, however. By incorporating the nineteenth century slave experience, not the wider history of Atlantic slavery, Berlin has added immeasurably to our understanding of the "peculiar institution", as well as our understanding of antebellum America."
-J.R. Oldfield, History
Four great migrations defined the history of black people in America. Berlin's magisterial new account of these passages evokes both the terrible price and the moving triumphs of a people forcibly and then willingly migrating to America over four centuries.
An award-winning historian's sweeping new interpretation of the African American experience.
In this masterful account, Ira Berlin, one of the nation's most distinguished historians, offers a revolutionary-and sure to be controversial-new view of African American history. In The Making of African America, Berlin challenges the traditional presentation of a linear, progressive history from slavery to freedom. Instead, he puts forth the idea that four great migrations, between the seventeenth and twenty-first centuries, lie at the heart of black American culture and its development. With an engrossing, accessible narrative, Berlin traces the transit from Africa to America, Virginia to Alabama, Biloxi to Chicago, Lagos to the Bronx, and in the process finds the essence of black American life.
About the Author
Ira Berlin is Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Maryland. His many books include Slaves Without Masters, Generation of Captivity, and Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and winner of the Bancroft Prize for the best book in American history and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.