Monday, April 30, 2012

This Week's Book: Terms of Labor

This was a tough one. I had to read it, of course, but I chose to and it was worth it. Nice to see a history book on the front page again.

As an aside, all seven of the entries on this blog so far are on even-numbered days, completely by accident at that. Well... I find that interesting.

April 22-28: Terms of Labor, ed. Stanley Engerman

History (1999 - 271pp.) 

I can barely qualify this for Book a Week considering how academic it is, but that's life, isn't it? 

Terms of Labor is an interdisciplinary book, covering history, social science and law, that is essentially a history of freedom. It spans six centuries, three continents, and subjects as wide-ranging as slavery, women's rights and the American labour movement. It really is quite an ambitious book, and it's pulled off well. 

Each article is written by an expert in a different field. This results in a chapter on the early modern slave trade, a chapter comparing the Russian serf emancipation of 1861 to the freeing of slaves in the Southern United States during/after the American Civil War, a chapter on indentured servitude in Northwest Ordinance cases, and so on, all the way up to a closing chapter on the merits of the American dream. To list everything would basically require writing a term paper but the table of contents shouldn't be tough to find. 

Any book like this is bound to be a little disjointed, but as a plus, it never gets boring. The main criticism I would have is in the structure, specifically that chapter breaks can never really be that smooth here. Then again, the main cachet of a book like this is how much different material a reader can cover in under 300 pages. If you're interested in off-the-wall comparisons of seemingly disparate subjects and have a history and/or industrial relations background, I would definitely recommend this book. If not, you might get lost a little, but I imagine you'll learn a ton. 

Ease of Reading: 1 
Educational Content: 10

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