“Yet no book of Genovese’s has had the impact of Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974). A long, complex, almost Hegelian treatment of the master-slave relation – and of the dynamics of power that were embedded within it – Roll, Jordan, Roll is a study of intense struggle, unfolding over decades, that enabled slaveholders to establish political and cultural hegemony but also enabled slaves to claim basic rights for themselves and room for their communities. At the book’s center is slave religion, at once a concession to the cultural authority of the masters and a celebration of the slaves’ solidarity, spirituality, and destiny–a measure of the contradictory character of the slave regime. Replete with comparative and international references, political allusions, and literary flourishes, Roll, Jordan, Roll may well be the finest work on slavery ever produced.
But it, along with the rest of Genovese’s early work, had serious critics, especially on the left. While acknowledging his analytical skills, many felt that Genovese was too admiring of the slaveholders’ power and too dismissive of the slaves’ rebelliousness; too interested in class and not sufficiently interested in race; too focused on the pre-capitalist features of southern society and the paternalist ethos of the masters; and too blind to the capitalist impulses of an intensely commodified world….”