Cover: River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom, from Harvard University PressCover: River of Dark Dreams in PAPERBACK

River of Dark Dreams

Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom

Add to Cart

Product Details

PAPERBACK

$24.00 • £19.95 • €21.50

ISBN 9780674975385

Publication Date: 03/13/2017

Trade

560 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

27 halftones, 2 tables

Belknap Press

World

“Few books have captured the lived experience of slavery as powerfully.”—Ari Kelman, The Times Literary Supplement

“[One] of the most impressive works of American history in many years.”—The Nation

“An important, arguably seminal, book… Always trenchant and learned.”—The Wall Street Journal

A landmark history, by the author of National Book Critics Circle Award finalist The Broken Heart of America, that shows how slavery fueled Southern capitalism.

When Jefferson acquired the Louisiana Territory, he envisioned an “empire for liberty” populated by self-sufficient white farmers. Cleared of Native Americans and the remnants of European empires by Andrew Jackson, the Mississippi Valley was transformed instead into a booming capitalist economy commanded by wealthy planters, powered by steam engines, and dependent on the coerced labor of slaves. River of Dark Dreams places the Cotton Kingdom at the center of worldwide webs of exchange and exploitation that extended across oceans and drove an insatiable hunger for new lands. This bold reaccounting dramatically alters our understanding of American slavery and its role in U.S. expansionism, global capitalism, and the upcoming Civil War.

Walter Johnson deftly traces the connections between the planters’ pro-slavery ideology, Atlantic commodity markets, and Southern schemes for global ascendency. Using slave narratives, popular literature, legal records, and personal correspondence, he recreates the harrowing details of daily life under cotton’s dark dominion. We meet the confidence men and gamblers who made the Valley shimmer with promise, the slave dealers, steamboat captains, and merchants who supplied the markets, the planters who wrung their civilization out of the minds and bodies of their human property, and the true believers who threatened the Union by trying to expand the Cotton Kingdom on a global scale.

But at the center of the story Johnson tells are the enslaved people who pulled down the forests, planted the fields, picked the cotton—who labored, suffered, and resisted on the dark underside of the American dream.

Recent News

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

Photograph of Lessons from Plants, by Beronda L. Montgomery, from Harvard University Press, placed on sunny table next to leafy green potted plant and desk organizer

What Have We Learned from Plants?

For Beronda Montgomery, the author of Lessons from Plants, the undisturbed growth of plants has been a reminder that life moves along, even in the most difficult times. In her new book, Montgomery shows how plant behavior and adaptation can offer valuable insights for human thriving. Her recent article in Elle on how plants have been a beacon of hope for her and many others during the pandemic inspired us at HUP