This is a big book (420 pages) but well worth the effort. The book's two main premises are that slavery was a critical component of the development of capitalism in the United States and indeed the western world (the author is not the first to advance this thesis) and that increased productivity of cotton production in the United States in the first half of the 19th century was due to a significant increase in calculated brutality, which the author calls the whipping machine. However, the author does not provide the data and analysis required to support these contentions. There is no doubt that slavery was of great importance to economic development and, as the author contends, not inefficient or moribund or outside the capitalist sphere, as some, including authors of the Lost Cause mythology have argued. With respect to the second point, a number of reviewers claim that it was improvements in cotton plants that were behind the increased productivity. Despite its relative failings on these points, the book excels at describing the horror visited upon the millions of African-Americans caught up by the expansion and increased brutality of slavery in the first half of the 19th century. The author gives voice to these people and has shown how they acted as agents to the extent that they could, despite the overwhelming hardships they faced.