the peculiar institution coverAuthor: Kenneth M. Stampp

Number of Pages: 464

Publisher: Vintage

Release Date: 1956

“The classic study of American slavery as a deliberately chosen, practical system of controlling and exploiting labor.”


My entire AP United States History class was forced to read this book this quarter because, as my teacher likes to say, “It tells you everything you wanted to know and didn’t want to know about slavery.” Having finished the book, I can vouch for the fact that what he said is in fact true. It may not be the most entertaining book- actually, let’s be honest, it definitely isn’t the most entertaining book- but it is by far one of the more educational, thought-provoking, and eye-opening books I have ever read.

The Peculiar Institution is extremely thorough in discussing all aspects of slavery, including social, political, and economic components. My favorite parts were the chapters that discussed the social and cultural aspects of slavery, especially the dynamics in the relationship between a slave and his or her master. It think it’s fascinating to study how slaveholders viewed slavery and how they treated their slaves in the Ante-Bellum South because slavery was such an awful system of labor. How could someone ever enslave other human beings and put them through such harsh and cruel treatment? It’s interesting to see how slaveholders justified this labor system, and Stampp does an excellent job of presenting both sides of the slavery debate. He does make some opinionated statements against slavery, but they are always backed up by an abundance of factual information in the form of statistics, quotes, specific examples, etc. My least favorite parts of this book were those that discussed the economic side of slavery. I just thought that they were very boring, but that is purely a personal preference. I don’t find economics interesting no matter who is discussing them.

Overall, this was a good read. It is extremely dry, strictly informative, and purely educational. It wasn’t nearly as good as Joseph J. Ellis’ Founding Brothers, which I read this past summer for my APUSH class, but it was nevertheless a very interesting read. When keeping in mind that this book is meant to inform and not to necessarily entertain, it is clear that it has reached its goal.

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) 4 out of 5 smileys

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Not really. Only if they were very interesting in the Ante-Bellum South, slavery, or US history in general. Otherwise, this isn’t really a book to put at the top of your TBR list.




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