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Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  982 ratings  ·  36 reviews
A profound, learned and detailed analysis of Negro slavery. It covers an incredible range of topics and offers fresh insights on nearly every page... the author's great gift is his ability to penetrate the minds of both slaves and masters, revealing not only how they viewed themselves and each other, but also how they contradictory perceptions interacted.
Paperback, 864 pages
Published January 12th 1976 by Vintage (first published 1974)
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A fascinating, but vitally flawed, book, Roll, Jordan, Roll, is part Marxist-leaning polemic and part well-woven narratives of the slave experience in colonial and antebellum America. At just over 800 pages, Genovese's opus has become a classic in the field for its amazing scope and wide-ranging foci on the nature of slavery in historical America. However, Genovese relies on a very specific point of view that constrains the interpretation of slavery to a preindustrial Marxian paradigm, steeped i ...more
Mar 21, 2008 Commonground rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those willing to read history
Roll Jordan Roll is an extensive chronicle of the lives of African American slaves in the United States. It smashes the myth of a defeated, simple people without a culture. It details how a captive group of people from several different cultures retained many of their own traditions while adapting to their very difficult conditions. Rich with examples of how these strong people not only survived, but performed everyday acts of resistance, often with an artistic flair, this book will forever chan ...more
Czarny Pies
Aug 30, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Marxists who cannot recognize the smell of deadfish.
Recommended to Czarny by: I in fact read it against the recommendations of my history professors
Faute de pouvoir donner cinq étrons, je lui donne une étoile.

Roll, Jordan, Roll is a great example of how history should not be written. It is guilty of two great sins: -1- it forces facts into models and -2- it makes absurd efforts to be politically correct.

An historian is supposed to seek the facts and let them lay where they fall. They are not supposed to select facts in order to build a model. Genovese was a declared Marxist and disciple of Gramschi. Like all good Marxists he openly flaunted
Thomas Isern
Since I have my graduate students in agricultural history read this work, I figured it was time I reread it myself. I find that it resonates differently now, after the passage of decades, for the book, for me, and for the country. The book, of course, is what it was in 1974, only not. Books are living things that breathe the air of the times. In 1974 Roll, Jordan was edgy, hot, controversial, and affirming all at the same time. Now it is historiography, and in the land of historiography, the oxy ...more
Mark Bowles
A. Argument: The “slaves laid the foundation for a separate black national culture while enormously enriching American culture as a whole.” (xv) This separate black national culture has always been American, even though it was based on African origins. Masters and slaves shaped each other and cannot be analyzed in isolation. This book examines the black struggle to survive spiritually and physically. This book concerns itself with the quality of life which defies measurement. Genovese accepts Fo ...more
This was one heck of a read when I was in the Graduate program for History at San Jose State. Not only does it gives the reader a view of slavery from a slaves point of view but it does not take a paternalistic view. Yes they were slaves, and considered chattel but even in such a brutal and horrible system, Genovese shows that beneath the labels slaves were people. With dreams, love and even power. An amazing book.
Christian Clarke
This book is the definitive popular history of American slavery. It's scholarly credentials are impeccable, as are it's marxist tendencies. The analysis of the southern Paternalism is what makes this book worth reading. Good history enlarges so your understanding of things beyond the primary subject matter. Genovese makes you see the South as a metaphor for the relations of power as they exist in the society as a whole.
Genovese's thesis on paternalism and slavery changed my perspective on the institution in America. This is a compelling read for anyone studying the antebellum South. His ideas on paternalism, coupled with the Moynihan report totally changed my outlook on slavery as a whole and its impact on our society today.
Mike Horne
This was an excellent book. Great description of the life of slaves in America. Genovese is a communist I believe, and I did not understand his afterward. But I felt that this was an amazingly balanced book (unlike, say something by Howard Zinn).
Elliot Schnapp
A definitive description of what life was like under slavery. As close to a five star as a book can be without being one, but Genovese's writing can be a bit clunky at times.
Genovese lays out a pretty good case for paternalism. Even if you don't buy his argument, its a pretty comprehensive account of America's "original sin"...slavery.
Extremely well-researched look at the everyday life of American slavery.
Still the beginning for all slavery studies.
This history of nineteenth century slavery is quite useful to understanding how the social, moral, and legal institution developed to its own demise from the late 18th to the mid-nineteenth century. Eugene D. Genovese does a clever job linking black slaves and white masters in their mutually dependent, though admittedly slanted, relationship that produced a unique "world" known as the antebellum South. Using court rulings by judges, Genovese shows how the South struggled with the unique position ...more
This is a book that focuses on slavery as a system of paternalism. It tries hard but in its efforts reduces slaves to one dimensional caricatures who have bought into and welcome the system of slavery. I read this in college and the way slaves were described as being invested in this system seemed even then such a shallow stereotypic view.

This work seems to reinforce the stereotype of slavery that includes the post-slavery construct that portrayed slaves as happy with paternalism, welcoming the
Edward Waverley
Apr 24, 2013 Edward Waverley marked it as to-read

Modern Americans have enormous difficulty in grasping hierarchical social structures. We grew up steeped in "applied Christianity" pretty much the way the Hitler Youth grew up steeped in Hitler. The suggesting that slavery could ever be or have been, as Aristotle suggests, natural and healthy, is like suggesting to the Hitler Youth that it might be cool to make some Jewish friends. Their idea of Jews is straight out of Jud Süss. Our idea of slavery is stra
David Bates
Eugene Genovese’s 1974 work Roll, Jordan, Roll is an exploration of the ideological framework that mediated the relationship between slaves and slaveholders. Building on the ideas of Antonio Gramsci, Genovese’s goal is to understand how one class dominated another, justified itself and how the ruled responded to that domination within a shared paternalist framework. Paternalism dictated that slaveholders accepted duties to their slaves concurrently with power over them, while blacks accepted the ...more
Reformed Covenanter
Despite being 800 pages long, this book is not in the slightest bit bloated nor was it a wearisome read (which is rare for a history book of this length). I have been somewhat prejudiced against Eugene Genovese for his later apologies for the slaveholders and straw-man depictions of abolitionists. In his earlier work, however, he struck a good balance between appropriate empathy and critical discrimination. Roll, Jordan, Roll is, and will always be viewed as, the outstanding social history of th ...more
I only read about two hundred pages of this massive book, and I probably should return to it someday. For now, suffice it to say, this is a very interesting book that stirs up a lot of passionate debate about the antebellum South. Genovese's paternalism thesis became something that basically everybody else writing about the South had to address in some way, and few scholars seem to have attacked it outright. (besides pointing out that it really doesn't examine racism, which is a pretty serious p ...more
Geovese's account of American slavery encompasses many aspects of daily life, and is praiseworthy for its attempt to establish the agency of enslaved individuals in shaping their own identity within the confines of their social condition. In particular, I appreciated the chapter on selecting names. However, despite being a work of ground-braking scholarship, Genovese's work remains limited. Although, Genevese pays attention to the variety and variances in slave life, too often his history seems ...more
I only read this because of my WEM group! I'm glad I did, even though it was a MEGO book.

The author made the point that in order to understand the history of slavery, one must understand the concept of slaves and masters being interdependent. What was interesting was that not only did whites shape the world of the blacks, but blacks shaped the white's world. Slaves also developed their own culture which can be seen still in some ways today. There were many letters and oral history the author use
Genovese sets out to establish the reciprocal relationship between slaves in the American south and their owners, especially as described by his own definition of paternalism. He mostly succeeds. At times he paints the entire south with too broad a brush, and he incorporates New Orleans and Louisiana - problematic due to the legacy of Napoleonic law and Caribbean culture - only when useful to his argument, otherwise ignoring their difference. Although he focuses on religion, he ignores the impac ...more
Absolutely eye-opening, heavily researched and well documented account of the lives of slaves and the social impact that American slave bondage had on its victims. Excellent analysis with proofs of how the slave system completely enveloped the developing social system of America, especially the south. Analysis also of the lives of poor whites, working class whites and the plantation elites and how they interacted with each other and their slave counterparts.

I'm still reading it, oftentimes I am
Claire S
Interesting.. Slant-awareness would have to be a big part of reading this. I wonder if he talks about the part of it having to do with religion - the idea that slavery benefitted the slaves because they got to be brought into Christianity from pagan/lack of belief. Despite the fact that some/many was Muslim!

Sounds like a great source though (with all the necessary caveats) if daughter or I were to delve into this subject.
Thorough analysis of the American slave culture. Genovese argues that slaves preserved African culture and combined it with American folkways to form a unique society. Can seem encyclopedic at times, but the author is thorough, and I recommend this as an invaluable source for lessons and lectures on slavery in the United States.
I read this book for one of my graduate classes. I just loved it because it gave such a voice of survival and strength to the slave population. Genovese really gets into the world of the slave and brings dignity to their struggle to cope and survive in this crazy world they were thrown into.
My love of this book nearly waned the moment I heard Genovese had become a hardcore neo-con. But alas, that little fact can not undermine this brilliant and original look into the ability of slaves to resist despite the backbreaking oppression that surrounded them.
Aug 14, 2007 Alexia rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: truth seekers
What they don't teach American youth about in U.S. History courses...the contribution that Africans slaves made in the creation and building of this country. Though hard to read at times, this book should be required for all high school seniors.
Mar 30, 2013 Jackie added it
Thorough, maybe exhaustive history of slavery in the U.S. south. Genovese argues slaves actively influenced the circumstances of their bondage. Written 40 years ago, the book needs an update to reflect more recent research.
Nonfiction: History. Winner of the Bancroft Prize. This is an excellent study with surprising information and lots of quotes from slave interviews and narratives. Copyright: 1976. 660 pages of text and another 160 pages of notes.
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Eugene Dominic Genovese was an American historian of the American South and American slavery. He has been noted for bringing a Marxist perspective to the study of power, class and relations between planters and slaves in the South. His work Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made won the Bancroft Prize. He later abandoned the Left and Marxism, and embraced traditionalist conservatism.
More about Eugene D. Genovese...
The Political Economy of Slavery: Studies in the Economy and Society of the Slave South The Southern Tradition: The Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism The World Slaveholders Made: Two Essays in Interpretation The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders' Worldview A Consuming Fire: The Fall of the Confederacy in the Mind of the White Christian South

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