Saturday, May 12, 2012

Just Finished Reading

Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of Civil War, ( published in 1992) is another book that had slid under my radar for too long. I happened to pick up this copy in a small Charleston, South Carolina bookstore about a year ago.  I came to the conclusion a long time ago that there are just simply too many good books and too little time to read them. I'm looking forward to retirement some day so I can make a valiant attempt to catch up.

This book was not quite what I was expecting - at least the first half wasn't. I suppose I was expecting a David M. Potter-esque, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861, but much of it wasn't like that at all.

In order to attempt to understand and thus explain how the coming of the Civil War happened, Levine looks relatively closely at the social systems - free and slave - of America's two sections of the nineteenth century and the culture and politics each spawned. Levine argues rather persuasively that "the distinctive ways in which North and South organized their labor systems left their mark on all aspects of regional life - including family, gender, leisure patterns and both religious and secular ideologies. Such cultural changes, in turn, deeply influenced political life." Of course it was those politics that brought about secession and war.

The first four chapters go back and forth between the South and the and North showing those social and cultural peculiarities of each section from the post-Revolution era to the late antebellum period. I especially enjoyed these chapters, as Levine puts forth a clear and well argued analysis.

The last six chapters of the book are toward what I was expecting - more like The Impending Crisis. In these chapters Levine tells they story of how from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the Civil War, the "slave question" and the nation's struggle with it eventually brought on conflict between North and South.

If you are looking for a book, that in 240 pages of text, covers how this nation came to blows and that brought about the tragedy of over 620,000 deaths, in a scholarly, well researched, but highly readable book, then Half Slave and Half Free is probably for you. On a scale of 1 to 5 I give it a 4.75.

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