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The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The…

The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb… (2017)

by Daina Ramey Berry

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
As a genealogist and historian, I found the topic of this work very intriguing. While the title did not really give an idea of the subject the subtitle was the net which caught my attention, The Value of the enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation. The perspective taken by Berry is quite different from anything I have read in the past. My knowledge of Southern history is not as strong as other locals, nor do I have a special interest due to personal family research. This is part of why I gravitate to books such as this one.
The research undertaken, appears to be exhaustive. If you are a genealogist or historian the records used to obtain information for this publication may be new to you and well worth your time to discover, so you can apply, obtain and use the sources for your own research.
Describing the life of a slave based on their value was very interesting. To put this in a timeline comparing how that value changes from birth to death was incredible. I would highly recommend his informative work to all historians, even going so far as to say it should be read by anyone with ties to the South. Whether you family was enslaved or the owner of slaves there is a lot of data to be gleaned from this work. Not to leave out the non-slave owning population, others reading this book will gain insight into the community, culture and general life people from the South.
One of the most noteworthy sections dealt with postmortem, cemeteries and the medical schools. Slaves would raid cemeteries for bodies (not legally and probably without their owner knowing) and deliver them to some of the greatest medical schools in the U.S. A little known, fact that much of our early medical information gleaned from cadavers was based on the African population and not on a European population.
Wonderful book and I am grateful to have had the introduction and then the ability to read this work thanks to Librarything. ( )
  Jim_Sipe | Oct 12, 2017 |
This is a fascinating and disquieting account of the commodification of human life and human bodies. Although it would be naïve to expect a book about slavery to be anything but disquieting, Dr. Berry’s years of research into and study of the subject and her pairing of the voices of the enslaved juxtaposed with their assessed economic value and their, on average, higher sale price from gestation and into the grave and beyond made this privileged old white male reader quite squeamish—and deservedly so.

The economic value of the slave is given as a capital value, as a piece of farm machinery or an item of livestock would be assessed for property insurance. The arrangement of the book follows the life cycle of slaves from before birth, as the value of a “breeding Wench,” might be higher for a plantation owner wanting to expand his “stock,” and less for a slave owner wanting a domestic worker, where the enslaved woman’s child care duties would be an interruption of her household duties. This fluctuating valuation continues even after death when the mortal remain of the slave would be sold by the owner, or stolen by grave robbers for dissection, a growing trade in the 18th century and a well-established extralegal practice in the 19th. Berry coins the term “ghost value” for this postmortem trade for which medical colleges would pay up to $30 for a cadaver, or $881 in 2014 dollars. She uses another neologism for the value, or self-worth that the enslaved person put on him- or herself, their “soul value.” This was an unquantifiable value. ( )
  MaowangVater | Aug 4, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Berry provides a well-researched and comprehensive work on this critical yet largely previously untouched aspect of the economics of American slavery. The author’s discussion of soul value, or the enslaved’s perception of morality and self-value, and ghost value, the value of the enslaved body postmortem, make this work a uniquely new body of knowledge in the discipline.

My personal interests in higher education and economics make the university and medical college connection to the economics of postmortem body trading and dissection fascinating. Berry’s work sheds more light on the dark history of American higher education, which is been a contemporary topic of heated discussion.

As expected, the book is filled with heroes, victims, villains, and enablers. The reader comes away with a better understanding of the economics of the enslaved, from birth to postmortem. As America continues to evolve from its history of slavery, this work takes us one step further in better understanding the past—including the economics behind atrocities. ( )
  henrycalphinjr | Apr 1, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I was hoping to win an Early Review Copy of this book, so I was pretty happy when I actually did! If you're a fan of nonfiction, historical books I'd definitely recommend this. I thought the premise of the book was interesting and original, and it was very well researched. It is a difficult book to read due to the heartbreaking history, but it's a worthwhile examination. The writing style is also not dry at all, and author Daina Ramey Berry really grabs your attention. ( )
  HotWolfie | Mar 11, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Price for Their Pound of Flesh, by D. R. Berry, is a thoughtful, detailed, and perceptive account of the commodification of human beings in 19th century America. Organized by the chronological age of an enslaved person, it traces the monetary value placed on the enslaved from birth to early childhood, then from early to middle childhood, middle childhood to young adulthood, etc all the to and past the value at death. The author carefully avoids calling the people "slaves," consistently calling them "enslaved," to refer to conditions imposed on them rather than to fundamental identity. The variety of insights into what the buyers and sellers valued is impressive and thought-provoking. This is a book to read, consider, re-read, and value. ( )
  GaryLeeJones | Mar 4, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0807047627, Hardcover)

Groundbreaking look at slaves as commodities through every phase of life, from birth to death and beyond, in early America

In life and in death, slaves were commodities, their monetary value assigned based on their age, gender, health, and the demands of the market. The Price for Their Pound of Flesh is the first book to explore the economic value of enslaved people through every phase of their lives—including preconception, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, the senior years, and death—in the early American domestic slave trade. Covering the full “life cycle,” historian Daina Ramey Berry shows the lengths to which enslavers would go to maximize profits and protect their investments. Illuminating “ghost values” or the prices placed on dead enslaved people, Berry explores the little-known domestic cadaver trade and traces the illicit sales of dead bodies to medical schools.

This book is the culmination of more than ten years of Berry’s exhaustive research on enslaved values, drawing on data unearthed from sources such as slave-trading records, insurance policies, cemetery records, and life insurance policies. Writing with sensitivity and depth, she resurrects the voices of the enslaved and provides a rare window into enslaved peoples’ experiences and thoughts, revealing how enslaved people recalled and responded to being appraised, bartered, and sold throughout the course of their lives. Reaching out from these pages, they compel the reader to bear witness to their stories, to see them as human beings, not merely commodities.

A profoundly humane look at an inhumane institution, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh will have a major impact how we think about slavery, reparations, capitalism, nineteenth-century medical education, and the value of life and death.

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 04 Jan 2017 18:28:35 -0500)

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