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Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made

4.01  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,291 Ratings  ·  44 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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Feb 07, 2008 Laura rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
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
Thomas Isern
May 15, 2014 Thomas Isern rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: agriculture
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
Mar 21, 2008 Commonground rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 30, 2013 Samanthamg rated it it was ok
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
Czarny Pies
Aug 30, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it did not like it
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
Michael Roueche
Oct 20, 2015 Michael Roueche rated it it was amazing
Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, winner of the 1975 Bancroft Prize, is indispensable to understanding American slavery in the antebellum South. It's also delightfully controversial in history and content.

It was written by Eugene D. Genovese, a communist later turned conservative. He was in his Marxist phase when he wrote it, and he tried to squeeze his image of slavery into his perspective of ideological class conflict and exploitation. I found his communist theorizing for the most
Joseph Stieb
Sep 20, 2015 Joseph Stieb rated it really liked it
This is a rich, challenging, and complex book. It is a book with basically one big idea, but it provides a brilliant way to think about American slavery and relationship between masters and sons. Although some recent research has undermined parts of Genovese, overall it remains a crucial book for students of American history. This book took me forever to read, so I wouldn't really recommend it to non-historian readers, but I'd say it's important for high school and college teachers to be familia ...more
Mark Bowles
Aug 30, 2014 Mark Bowles rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 02, 2011 Saul rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 07, 2007 Christian Clarke rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Studs
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.
Jul 09, 2011 Kristie rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 07, 2011 Mike Horne rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 11, 2011 Elliot Schnapp rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 26, 2008 Dave rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 10, 2014 Luis rated it really liked it
Extremely well-researched look at the everyday life of American slavery.
Dec 29, 2007 Ryan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: academic-history
Still the beginning for all slavery studies.
Joseph Sung
May 11, 2016 Joseph Sung rated it it was amazing
As a history book, this work deals with primary sources. In the compilation and analyses, Genovese offers a much more accurate picture of this antebellum Southern society than the collection of stereotypes and reductions most of us hold to now due to our ignorance. He paints a rich and textured picture of the ways in which sinful and flawed men and women, white and black, tried their best to retain and assert their humanity within an economic and social institution, slavery, that perpetually thr ...more
Bill Crane
Nov 01, 2015 Bill Crane rated it really liked it
On the one hand, this is Genovese's masterpiece and a masterpiece of Marxist social history to set alongside others like "The Black Jacobins" and "The Making of the English Working Class." Genovese clearly (in so far as this is possible) draws out the main contradictions and coherences in the slave society of the US South in everything from whipping to cooking, painting a panorama of the slaves' and slaveholders' social, political and intellectual lives that has not been surpassed in the 45 year ...more
Sep 12, 2014 Samuel rated it really liked it
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
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
May 22, 2013 David Bates rated it it was ok
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
Mar 25, 2014 Daniel rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 10, 2011 John rated it really liked it
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
Aug 08, 2013 Kristi rated it liked it
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
May 30, 2012 Lizzy rated it liked it
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
Old but still indispensable overview of what life was like for American slaves in the 19th century. Long and comprehensive. Genovese's theory of "paternalism" is controversial.
Claudia Majetich
Apr 27, 2015 Claudia Majetich rated it it was amazing
An amazing work of scholarship coupled with a deep understanding of humanity. Inspiring on many levels.
Feb 05, 2012 Kate rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 15, 2015 Chris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
granddaddy of them all
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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...

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