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The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Oxford Paperbacks), 1st Edition

Winner of several national awards including the 1967 Pulitzer Prize, this classic study by David Brion Davis has given new direction to the historical and sociological research of society’s attitude towards slavery.
Davis depicts the various ways different societies have responded to the intrinsic contradictions of slavery from antiquity to the early 1770’s in order to establish the uniqueness of the abolitionists’ response. While slavery has always caused considerable social and psychological tension, Western culture has associated it with certain religious and philosophical doctrines that gave it the highest sanction. The contradiction of slavery grew more profound when it became closely linked with American colonization, which had as its basic foundation the desire and opportunity to create a more perfect society. Davis provides a comparative analysis of slave systems in the Old World, a discussion of the early attitudes towards American slavery, and a detailed exploration of the early protests against Negro bondage, as well as the religious, literary, and philosophical developments that contributed to both sides in the controversies of the late eighteenth century. This exemplary introduction to the history of slavery in Western culture presents the traditions in thought and value that gave rise to the attitudes of both abolitionists and defenders of slavery in the late eighteenth century as well as the nineteenth century.


“A magnificent work done in the finest tradition of historical scholarship.”–C. Vann Woodward, Yale University

“The most eloquent and scholarly book on slavery we now have in English….Here is cross-cultural history at its best.”–Virginia Quarterly Review

“A magnificent history of ideas….It will remain a magnificent contribution to intellectual and social history…[and] will be studied for decades to come.”–Eugene D. Genovese, Journal of Southern History

“A helpful survey of the origins of the institution and its developments down to the end of the eighteenth century.”–The Atlantic

“A large, immensely learned, readable, exciting, disturbing…volume, one of the most important to have been published on the subject of slavery in modern times.”–M.I. Finley, The New York Review of Books

About the Author

David Brion Davis is Sterling Professor of History at Yale University and President of the Organization of American Historians. Winner of the Bancroft Prize, the National Book Award, and the Beveridge Award of the A.H.A., he is the author of several books, including Slavery and Human Progress and The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution.

As other reviewers say, this scholarly book emphasizes intellectual history and attitudes (including Christian justification) toward slavery. The author describes the beliefs of Greek philosophers most of us will never have heard of, writings of English, French, and German philosophers, justifications for slavery in the bible, justifications based on Christian beliefs. He traces the gradual development of abolitionist thought. The author will refer back to a philosopher or person whose beliefs were mentioned chapters ago, with only a very brief summary of those beliefs. He provides very limited information on legislation related to slavery and the actual conduct of slavery, but information on African practices leading to the taking and selling of slaves is interesting. Thus, this book is written for historian scholars, not for the average reader. It perhaps should be noted that the primary coverage is the period to approximately 1775, with a few references to later events; later books in this series cover the later period.

Product Details :

  • Series: Oxford Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 20, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195056396
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195056396
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5 x 1.3 inches

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