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The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation
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The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  226 ratings  ·  52 reviews
Groundbreaking look at slaves as commodities through every phase of life, from birth to death and beyond, in early America

In life and in death, slaves were commodities, their monetary value assigned based on their age, gender, health, and the demands of the market. The Price for Their Pound of Flesh is the first book to explore the economic value of enslaved people through
Hardcover, 280 pages
Published January 24th 2017 by Beacon Press
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Apr 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a really tough one to get through. I had to put this down several times and read something else just for my own mental health. That being said, Berry does some impressive research into the history of the American slave trade and tells the story through an interesting narrative structure. For her, there were four distinct moments in the life of a slave where their value be assessed. These were from birth to adolescence, from adolescence to roughly age forty, from age forty to death, and ...more
Sep 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I got an advanced digital copy, uncorrected proof from the publisher for review.

This was an incredible book about the economics of slavery, examining the assessed value and sale value of Black bodies at all ages, in utero to corpse.

Unsurprisingly, women were worth less than men at every age...some things never change...

It was fascinating to see HOW the property was assessed, how humans can be valued less than hogs and cattle. How slaves were insured, how slave owners were reimbursed when their s
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found out about Daina Berry and this book from a lecture from the LOC's (Library of Congress) YouTube page (link below). It took me a while to finish this book for various reasons. One being I borrowed it from the library and had to borrow it twice. Second, it was painful to read; however, I'm glad I did. I think this is a book that everyone should read. It is well-researched, and it talks about another aspect of slavery that is hardly ever discussed, the clandestine cadaver trade.

In addition
Alex Robinson
Sep 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Important if horrifying subject matter but the writing style is very academic and somewhat repetitive.
Dec 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
A difficult yet necessary read.

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for violence related to slavery, including racism and rape.)

"This book is written in a historical moment that historians have not yet named—a moment when black persons are disproportionately being killed and their deaths recorded. We witness the destruction of their lives via cell phones and dash and body cameras. The current voyeuristic gaze contains a level of brutali
Edward Sullivan
An important, groundbreaking, illuminating work examining the commodification of and economic value placed upon enslaved people though all phases of their lives and their deaths.
Aqura (engineersreadtoo)
Dec 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
In The Price for Their Pound of Flesh, Daina Berry examines the value of slaves from infancy to postmortem- spiritual and financial. The amount of thought that went into putting a value on the enslaved- based on their age, gender, physical attributes, behavior, and health- to do everything that their enslavers couldn’t while concurrently failing to treat them as the brilliant humans they were is actually mind blowing.

This book is an academic style of writing that has a solid structure, allowing
Mortisha Cassavetes
Jun 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2020
review to come
Martha Jones
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books of 2017 on the subject of slavery. Berry has done stellar research and she refuses then to be boxed in by existing or trendy interpretation. She takes seriously that enslaved people were regarded as both property and persons, and then she goes a step further to show us how enslaved people saw themselves, their circumstances, and their worlds.
Apr 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I heard this author speak in the NYT Book Review podcast and on NPR. I thought the book may be interesting or perhaps dry because it was based on records and data. I found it to be very thoughtful and brought slave trade records alive. Because slaves were property, slavers kept thorough records of their slaves and their worth throughout the slaves lives. Debt was common among planters and slaves were their greatest assets so were often sold off and traded after the owners’ deaths. A big story th ...more
Jun 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The years and years of research Dr. Berry did for this book is really shows. I have such an appreciation for that... so many archives, the topic must have weighed heavily! I learned so much, particularly in the last chapter about the monetary value placed on slaves even in death. This is something I never considered before because it’s so easy to assume a soul was finally free after death, but certainly we can see that nothing about a slave is free even in death. The very personal stories of tho ...more
Stan  Prager
Feb 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Review of: The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation, by Daina Ramey Berry
by Stan Prager (2-11-17)

The vision of a frightened African-American woman on the auction block clutching her child to her chest as the bidding commenced renders an iconic image that has often served as a powerful ingredient in fiction to conjure up the helplessness and hopelessness that beset chattel slaves in the antebellum south. Such as:
Adeline reluct
Feb 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Daina Ramey Berry has written a thought-provoking and extensively researched book about slavery from a brutal economic perspective, compelling readers to look beyond the “institution” of slavery (a term that inaccurately almost legitimizes the practice) and driving home an understanding of the position of the enslaved as an entity consumed by their market value. The unequal balance of the conflict between the enslaver’s lack of consideration of the “soul value” of the enslaved person and that of ...more
Susan Storer
Oct 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
We don’t often think about slavery as a business, but it was. Slave labor was critical to much of the American economy long before the American Revolution, and for nearly a century after it. Slaves were commodities, like livestock: they were bought, sold, bartered, and insured just like any other property. The story of their use as commodities is a grim one, and it has been starkly told in a recent book by Daina Ramey Berry.

This past summer I shared a stage with Ms. Berry at the Great Labor Arts
Aug 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating and disquieting account of the commodification of human life and human bodies. Although it would be naïve to expect a book about slavery to be anything but disquieting, Dr. Berry’s years of research into and study of the subject and her pairing of the voices of the enslaved juxtaposed with their assessed economic value and their, on average, higher sale price from gestation and into the grave and beyond made this privileged old white male reader quite squeamish—and deserved ...more
Jul 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: black-authors
Extensively sourced and very eye opening. Its chapters chronicle the worth of the enslaved black body pre-birth to post-death, written through a series of accounts from the perspectives of slaves and their masters.

While the writing may be dry and scholarly, it's a recommended read for a broader understanding of slave life.

Accounts include:
(view spoiler)
Jessica McLaren
Jun 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a hard, heavy book to read. In conversations regarding race in America, I've always been most impacted by the space Black bodies occupy. The physicality of being threatened, of having to protest, the unsafe way that so many Black bodies may feel in white spaces. This book approaches the foundation of that, and how and why Black bodies have been harmed, commodified, threatened, valued and devalued in America since 1619. Daina Ramey Berry takes a scholarly accounting of the value of Black ...more
Delande Justinvil
Sep 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Price of Their Pound of Flesh emerges amongst a growing set of literature on social histories of race and science in and after the Transatlantic Slave Trade. However, the diligence and, more importantly, care that Dr. Berry offers in her research on economics of the physical, social, and spiritual lives of enslaved men, women and children is a remarkable gift. This includes scalar attention to detail extends from providing specific details of individual lives before and after their transacti ...more
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: african american history, criminal justice
I'm so happy I stumble across this book one day. The fact of the matter is, there are more subjects related to Slavery and our ancestors that are simply not researched, not talked about, or acknowledged. To understand how valuable they were from the womb and even after death is an eye opener and more importantly, I appreciate that she took the time to research cadavers and how their bodies were not just mutilated after death, but stolen from their rightful burial places. There was information in ...more
May 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
More like 4.5 stars.

There is much to think about regarding the valuation and commodification of enslaved bodies. I loved the structure as Dr. Daina Berry examined the fluctuating value of enslaved bodies (male and female) during their life span. For example, she covers birth, childhood, adulthood, middle age, and elderly. I couldn’t help but think about how this valuation or devaluation of black bodies still exist today. One story in particular shook me as it called to mind the treatment of Mic
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fascinating topic, gave me plenty to think on. When reading about slavery, I've always seen economics discussed on the global scale - this gets into the individual level, and uses the stories of individuals to discuss how a "black body" was valued.

I did find some of the language distracting - Berry chose to describe the intangible self-value as "soul values" and discussed the sale of bodies after death as "ghost values." These were certainly important additions to the narrative, but the languag
Feb 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Although more of an academic read, this book packs a punch that will stay with me forever. I mean, we all hear how it's important to understand history so you can understand the present and this book is essential in that understanding. When looking at current movements like Black Lives Matter, the historical context of how Black bodies were exploited and used and how the majority of our institutions are what they are as a result of this exploitation is so critical. Because you have to understand ...more
Aaron Urbanski
Jul 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Daina Ramey Berry demonstrates how those enslaved in the U.S. were valued at all points of their lives by individuals such as owners, overseers, auctioneers, physicians, and body snatchers, and argues this discussion is incomplete without an analysis of the way the enslaved valued themselves. Berry uses both actual and imagined words and thoughts of enslaved individuals to evaluate their internal value. She aims to prove that while appraisal, market, and post-life (what she calls ghost) values e ...more
Apr 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Daina Ramey Berry used her background in economics and history to create a thoroughly researched work. She does a great job keeping it based logic. But, man, when the emotional either breaks through or hits you from your own perspective, it gets tough to keep reading. I took a couple of breaks and interspersed with light fiction or poetry. Isn't that what this is about though? I get to take breaks when it gets heavy and my black and brown friends don't get that opportunity to take a break. So if ...more
Apr 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is 'About The Benjamins'

It is about how America valued Africans not as human beings or Children of God but as a resource to build on stolen land to generate capital. Chapters reflect the life cycle of human beings from preconception through post death.

It isn't unusual for chapters of a book to start with quotes. These chapters also begin with figures. Specifically the average appraisal and average price of Black People at each stage in the life cycle. The chapters go on to detail the
Elisabeth Davis
Dec 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'm so torn on this book. It is well researched, well argued, and I've learned more about cadavier stealing than I may have wanted to know.

HOWEVER, throughout the text, the author infuses her own beliefs into the argument and narrative. She writes that she hopes the souls of the dead are at rest. A) Not relevant to the argument. B) Not appropriate for an academic monograph. She also talks about her own reckonings with race relations. Fair, but needed to be kept in the introduction.

When the aut
Jun 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020, race-racism, history
Berry's book takes a very close look at the value of enslaved people throughout their life (and even death), examining a diverse array of factors that affected that value. There were a lot of specific examples of how values changed, or the economic mechanics of slavery, and the ways that various public and private institutions were bent to accommodate those valuations. She spends an awful lot of time exploring the legal and illegal sale of black bodies after death, and the role of medical colleg ...more
Mar 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads-wins
*I won this book from goodreads' first reads.

This is a tough book to get through. The subject matter is, obviously, horrific, and the stories told to illustrate it are not sugar coated. I actually ended up skimming the last two chapters because it was just too much. That said, these are stories that need to be told, particularly these days, and they are told well here.
Aug 10, 2017 rated it liked it
The research in this book is extraordinary in depth and scope. It reads, however, like an under-revised PhD dissertation. The metaphor of cadaver procurement for the medical trade as agricultural cultivation is forced and doesn't offer additional illumination.
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Daina Ramey Berry is an associate professor of history and African and African diaspora studies, and the George W. Littlefield Fellow in American History, at the University of Texas at Austin. An award-winning historian, she is also a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians.

Author photo: Brenda Ladd Photography

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