Most intellectual biographies strive to either introduce new documentary evidence about an individual or to interpret existing documentary evidence inMost intellectual biographies strive to either introduce new documentary evidence about an individual or to interpret existing documentary evidence in a novel way. Nicholas Capaldi's biography of John Stuart Mill accomplishes neither. Capaldi, drawing primarily from Mill's autobiography, his published correspondance, and secondary sources, reduces Mill's oeuvre to the influence of his father, James Mill, and his long-time romantic interest and eventual wife Harriet Hardy Taylor. Echoing many of the stereotypes of Mill promulgated by his political opponents, Capaldi's Mill is given little intellectual autonomy and is seen more as the product of his upbringing and age than the great philosopher behind "On Liberty" and other seminal works.
Perhaps the most difficult part of analyzing Mill's life is to come to terms with his own "Autobiography" and in this Capaldi's biography is an abysmal failure. Capaldi frequently fails to critically engage with Mill's image of himself, especially when it came to the influence of Harriet Hardy Taylor on his intellectual production. Mill was an extremely modest individual, which Capaldi goes through pains to illustrate (23-28), and often attempted to credit his own breakthroughs to others. On the subject of women's rights Mill was decades ahead of his time call for women to have equal voting rights in the mid-19th century. Mill frequently credited his support of women's suffrage to Taylor, but it remains unclear whether she actually induced him to adopt the position or if his respect for her caused him to publicly support a political position he was already favorably disposed towards. I buy the argument that Taylor humanized Mill and cultivated feelings in him that lay dormant due to an intellectually regimented childhood; however, Capaldi seems to overstate her intellectual contributions to Mill's career.
I cannot in good conscience recommend this book. It is too scholarly to appeal to casual readers or those looking for an introduction to Mill's philosophy and it is simply to rigorous enough to appeal to scholars looking for a critical analysis of Mill's writings. For those looking for an introduction to Mill, I would recommend his "Autobiography" and also his most famous essay "On Liberty". His intellectual roots can be found in the work of the English Radicals especially Jeremy Bentham's writings on utilitarianism and David Ricardo's economic treatises (not to mention the writings of his father James Mill). ...more
Ira Berlin's "Many Thousands Gone" is a synthetic history, which seeks to examine the regional differences between the North, Chesapeake, Lower MissisIra Berlin's "Many Thousands Gone" is a synthetic history, which seeks to examine the regional differences between the North, Chesapeake, Lower Mississippi Valley, and Upper South (primarily South Carolina) during the first two-hundred years of slavery. Berlin's most significant contribution to the history of American slavery is the distinction between societies with slaves and slave societies. Societies with slaves count slaves among their population,but they are not the primary means of production whereas slave societies are dependent on slaves as the primary means of production (8). Using a generational approach to slavery, examining how different generations of slaves had different rights and sought different aims, Berlin deftly illustrates how different regions in the United States shifted between slave societies and societies with slaves. In the Chesapeake, for example, the first generation of cosmopolitan Africans had many more rights and liberties than subsequent generations of imported Africans after the explosion of tobacco as cash crop and resultant deepening dependence on slave labor.
Ultimately, what makes "Many Thousands Gone" a disappointment is that it reads like a textbook. There is no narrative uniting the different regions or generations of slaves, so the book seems fragmented. Also, since he reexamines each region three times during the course of the book, "Many Thousands Gone" is very repetitive. As a result of these writing and structural flaws, "Many Thousands Gone" is a drag to get through and reads much longer than its three hundred and fifty pages. I would recommend reading the introduction and conclusion, but skipping a lot of the books central chapters.
Berlin's distinction between societies with slaves and slave societies is a significant contribution to the study of American slavery. Unfortunately, the book is too dry to be an enjoyable read. Probably a must read for those interested in early American slavery or the history of early America more broadly, but one that should be skimmed. ...more