Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War

Howard W. French. Liveright, $35 (464p) ISBN 978-1-63149-582-3
Gold and slaves from Africa were “the very fulcrum of modernity,” according to this eye-opening if tendentious history. Columbia journalism professor French (A Continent for the Taking) argues that the rise of the West relied on West African gold exports, which stimulated Europe’s economy, and the trade in African slaves who produced sugar on Caribbean islands and cotton in the antebellum American South. These two fabulously profitable commodities were central to the rise of British and American capitalism, French contends, and birthed regimented production processes that were a model for industrial labor regimes. Though French elucidates much neglected history here, especially on relations between early modern Europe and the sophisticated—and pro-slavery—polities of Africa, his claim that without slave labor Europe might have remained a “geographic and civilizational dead end” lagging eternally behind Asia and the Islamic world goes too far, and he doesn’t fully explain why Western industries and societies kept flourishing even after slavery’s demise. Elsewhere, French assigns near-magical properties to slave-grown sugar, suggesting that it was essential to the Industrial Revolution, newspapers, and the birth of the “modern public sphere.” The result is an intriguing yet overwrought take on the global economy’s dire origins. Photos. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 07/27/2021
Release date: 10/12/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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