Cover: The Confounding Island: Jamaica and the Postcolonial Predicament, from Harvard University PressCover: The Confounding Island in HARDCOVER

The Confounding Island

Jamaica and the Postcolonial Predicament

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Product Details


$37.00 • £29.95 • €33.50

ISBN 9780674988057

Publication Date: 11/12/2019

Academic Trade

432 pages

5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

14 illus., 8 tables

Belknap Press


Fascinating… Such breadth makes this an eye-opening volume. It is also illuminating because Patterson carefully explores the complexity of the structural machinery behind Jamaica’s dazzling successes and dismal failures, rather than just chalking these up to simple causes. Although at times Patterson is critical of and disappointed by his fellow Jamaicans, his admiration for the nation’s independent spirit shines through.—Carrie Gibson, New York Times Book Review

An exploration of politics, economic development, and popular culture in the nearly 60 years since the island’s independence, the book seeks to understand what became of the promises of decolonization… In the ruins of postcolonial Jamaica, Patterson unearths a vibrant popular culture, centered in particular on dancehall music, that can provide new resources to address the postcolonial predicament… He uses the ‘confounding island’ as the site from which to understand the world.—Adom Getachew, The Nation

Excellent… One thing I like so much about this book is that it tries to answer actual questions you might have about Jamaica.—Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

Patterson explores the paradoxes of his native Jamaica in a series of stimulating essays.—Richard Feinberg, Foreign Affairs

Everybody wonders what makes Jamaica so different. The prominent Harvard sociologist dares to ask. Dares to answer, too.—Stephen L. Carter, Bloomberg Opinion

Unlike many observers of Jamaica, Patterson is thoroughly balanced in his assessment of Jamaica’s postcolonial failures… Patterson’s masterpiece covers a wide range of topics from democracy to culture, thus making it a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the paradox of Jamaica.—Lipton Matthews, Jamaica Observer

Demonstrates how one place—in this case, Jamaica—can provide critical insights into the broad theoretical and political issues of our time… A welcome capstone to a long and committed engagement with the legacies of slavery, the way the imperial era damaged us (rather than tutoring us, as is so often touted), and the ways the past lives in the present.—Deborah A. Thomas, New West Indian Guide

[A] masterful study.—Paget Henry, American Journal of Sociology

In positioning Jamaica’s global impact in athletics and music against endemic violence and poverty, Patterson challenges the reader to engage with the stark contrasts between individual success in popular music and athletic sprints and failures in economic, social, and political pursuits that require sustained collective efforts.—Rupert Lewis, SX Salon

Filled with piercing insights and written in Patterson’s crystalline style, The Confounding Island exemplifies the universalization of the particular that is the hallmark of great art and great social science. Patterson draws on research as well as personal experience and family history to shed light on some of the paradoxes, great failures, and outsized successes of postcolonial Jamaica.—George Steinmetz, author of The Devil’s Handwriting

Jamaica, the birthplace of reggae, a fiercely democratic island with staggeringly high crime rates, and a case study in the history of extractive colonialism, is an enigma that still fascinates the world. In this masterful history infused with personal feeling and detail, Orlando Patterson, the eminent scholar of the Caribbean, delivers a memorable, nuanced, and insightful social analysis of the island and its place in global history. Highly recommended.—Daron Acemoglu, coauthor of Why Nations Fail: Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

In The Confounding Island, Patterson challenges established dogma and slays old shibboleths by employing historical and cultural analyses to explain contemporary Jamaican social and economic phenomena, and he succeeds in taking the ‘confound’ out of ‘confounding’. The result is a clearer understanding of what makes Jamaica and Jamaicans tick.—Ian Randle, Chairman, Ian Randle Publishers

Patterson draws upon vast amounts of data, literature, and first-hand policy experience to present a rigorous and deeply insightful analysis of the paradox of Jamaica. This is an indispensable work for anyone interested in Jamaica’s development.—Nigel Clarke, Minister of Finance and the Public Service of Jamaica

Orlando Patterson weaves together an extraordinarily diverse range of disciplines to give us a comprehensive explanation of Jamaica’s history of success in some areas, yet chronic failure in others. This book is a game-changer whose themes resonate far beyond Jamaica to the challenges of economic development more generally; it will be assigned to generations of students to come. I predict that, despite its completely different subject matter, The Confounding Island will give Patterson’s iconic Children of Sisyphus strong competition as a must-read among West Indians. What a book!—Eleanor Marie Brown, Pennsylvania State University

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