Vincent's Reviews > Unfree Labor: American Slavery and Russian Serfdom

Unfree Labor by Peter Kolchin
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's review
Jun 27, 2010

it was amazing
Read in May, 2010

This is a brilliant, detailed, and scholarly social history of serfdom and slavery. I initially purchased this only for the Russian serfdom part, but Kolchin's comparative analysis sheds a good deal of light on both systems. What is most interesting is how Kolchin is not content merely to answer the usual and, frankly, obvious questions we associate with unfree labour, but explores the complexities of the master/serf/slave relationship in nuanced but lucid way. This is not to say that we don't get a picture of the degradation and humiliation of both systems as a lived experience from the point of view of the unfree individual. However, what Kolchin brings out is how slaves and serfs understood, struggled against, and often acquiesced in their bondage, and, more importantly, places it the context of the prevailing socio-economic imperatives out of which it was born.

Superbly footnoted (if you like that sort of thing) drawing upon extensive reading of Russian langauge sources.


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