Book Review: Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market

The book “Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market” by Walter Johnson takes you through a tour of how slavery worked in the United States before the Civil War. Everyday we are faced with different types of goods and products when deciding on making a purchase. Most of these purchases do not talk and walk or except for pets they do not breath either. It can be almost impossible for us to imagine purchasing a person and going through this type of process.

This book takes us into the life of slave traders and slave buyers. This is a market in which we hopefully will never see in America. It tells the stories about how slave traders would buy slaves in which it thought its buyers would like. The would be like any other speculator buying low and selling high. It takes us in the world of the slave buyer. They want to make sure that the slave is healthy, strong, and skilled. They want to make sure they are not paying more than they should.

It even takes you into the world of the slave. The idea that you are worth a certain amount. This is the part of the book I found to be the most profound. Slaves could determine their own value. When slavebuyers would come around to look at slaves, they didn’t just look at scars and physical traits, they ask questions. They would try to evaluate what their skills were by what the slave thought his skills were. They found out about family. It was well known that the more you ripped a slave from it’s family the more of a chance you had that they would leave and run away.

Overall, I would say this book is interesting because it sheds light on a market that no longer exists in most peoples modern lives. The only downside is that his points to me could have been summarized better and put into much better order. I never really understood where the book was going. To me the book should have focused more on each person in a different chapter, like I highlighted before. If you are interested in slavery and the market process this would be a good book for you. If you are like me and need a well organized layout. This layout may distract you from the story telling.


Published in: on October 30, 2008 at 11:54 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Sounds fascinating! I wonder how many of the buyers in these markets had internal struggles about purchasing other human beings. Some historian or sociologist must have done an examination of diaries or something like that.

  2. Pretty interesting. That had to be pretty odd back then, glad those days are over now. Still I bet that book is a very interesting and historical read.

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