Score: 94/100 (9.4 out of 10)
“Slavery 101” by Ken Mercer is an eye-opening book on the topic of the history of slavery. This is a no-frills, no BS book, which we greatly appreciated.
Let's preface this review by saying that we dreaded reading this, not because of anything against the author, but just that the subject matter (slavery) is notoriously depressing and miserable. We were pleasantly surprised at how clever and engaging this book is. This book is about as pleasant and simultaneously educational as a book on this topic can be. The author treats us to many great trivia sections that test and challenge the reader's knowledge and their comprehension of the text. That's brilliant!
How often do you read a book that's supposed to be educational that consists of an author dryly presenting their sermon or lecture? This, on the other hand, almost reaches out of the book at the reader and grabs them. It engages them.
The book takes a broader scope of slavery in America and the world than most others which focus strictly on slavery in one geographic area. The truth is never so simple or convenient. We applaud the author in taking this approach because its an approach not often taken. Indeed, many children and students in America today are brought up with the idea that slavery was a sort of American invention that came about in 1619, or that it was created and instituted by white men against darker men. The truth is that slavery is a practice that is at least 8,000 years old that was practiced on every continent on which human beings settled.
Even before westerners came to the New World, Aztecs, Mayans, and other natives exploited slaves not only for labor but also to be used as human sacrifices. Slavery was heavily practiced in the Roman Empire. Does the name Spartacus ring a bell? Arabs practiced slavery before and long after it was abolished in the west, and American and British sailing vessels worked to intercept slave ships. The Arab slave trade was ten-times larger than that of the Americans. It was also heavily practiced in Africa, and the image of white men buying slaves from other white men in Africa doesn't nearly capture the bigger picture. It gives people a false impression of what slavery was really like: an almost globally-accepted practice in both the east and west before and throughout much of the 1800s. In many cases, Africans enslaved Africans and sold them to Europeans and Americans.
In some countries outside the New World, nine out of ten slaves would die from exploitation including castrations without anesthesia in the Arab slave trade. These are things that are almost never discussed in the American grade school education system, and rarely in colleges. The focus is almost exclusively on the evils of slavery in America. And, yes, it was evil. And hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers died over it. This gives youth and students a very narrow view of a much bigger and broader history.
Why does this matter even matter? What difference does it make? Why all this whataboutism? Because it continues to paint America as an evil nation, one that was inherently and uniquely flawed. That simply isn't true.
Now, this book isn't perfect, and we don't expect it to be. Let's cover some of the things that are challenging about this book. For one, there is a religious and political bias in here. You notice it very quickly and it is apparent throughout. The author is very proud of his Christian faith and is also pretty clearly right-leaning politically. If those things trouble you, then this might not be the book for you.
At the same time, the author cites indisputable evidence about the institution of slavery such as the history of the two major American parties and their involvement for and against it. Indeed, as shocking as it may sound to modern readers, Democrats vehemently defended the institution of slavery and often voted for it. Abraham Lincoln and the Republican party—shockingly—arose to vehemently fight and abolish it. Many of the first Blacks elected to public office were, in fact, Republicans. These are truths that may be shocking, surprising, and/or difficult to believe considering the current mainstream narrative of racist right-wingers and social justice left-wingers. It's almost never so clear-cut. It is important for future generations to know the truth and the history of this nation.
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