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Walter Johnson’s River of Dark Dreamsis a book on the political economy of the Mississippi basin in the six decades before the American Civil War. The book’s three aims are to show, firstly, the racial, ecological, gender, and economic contradictions inherent within this society; secondly, the mechanisms of power maintaining a slave-holding oligarchy; and finally, its attempts at imperial expansion in the Gulf of Mexico. This book is exceptional as an example of integrating a wide range of poststructuralist approaches within a Marxist framework. Johnson mixes methods to vividly portray the ‘Cotton Kingdom’ as a vital, imperialist and capitalist polity that was in no way in decline, but rather the centre of the global industrial economy. This book is excellent, but flawed for avoiding theoretical issues and because Johnson is unable to prove broad support for private imperialist adventurers (‘filibusters’).

Affiliations: 1: New York University


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1. Ashworth John Slavery, Capitalism, and Politics in the Antebellum Republic: Volume 2, The Coming of the Civil War, 1850–1861 2007 Cambridge Cambridge University Press
2. Blackburn Robin "‘Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln: A Curious Convergence’" Historical Materialism 2011 Vol 19 4 99 128
3. Brenner Robert "‘The Origins of Capitalist Development: A Critique of Neo-Smithian Marxism’" New Left Review 1977 Vol I 104 25 92
4. Burkett Paul Marxism and Ecological Economics: Toward a Red and Green Political Economy, Historical Materialism 2009 Chicago Haymarket Books Book Series
5. Edwards Steve "‘A Symposium on the American Civil War and Slavery’" Historical Materialism 2011 Vol 19 4 33 44
6. Fields Barbara Jeanne "‘Slavery, Race and Ideology in the United States of America’" New Left Review 1990 Vol I 181 95 118
7. Herbert Ulrich "‘Forced Laborers in the Third Reich: An Overview’" International Labor and Working-Class History 2000 Vol 58 192 219
8. Johnson Walter Soul by Soul: Life inside the Antebellum Slave Market 1999 Cambridge, MA Harvard University Press
9. Kershaw Ian "‘The Nazi State: An Exceptional State?’" New Left Review 1989 Vol I 176 47 67
10. Morgan Philip "‘River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom’" The American Historical Review 2014 Vol 119 2 462 464
11. Nimtz August H. "‘Marx and Engels on the usCivil War: The “Materialist Conception of History” in Action’" Historical Materialism 2011 Vol 19 4 169 192
12. Oakes James "‘Best of All Worlds’" London Review of Books 2010 Vol 32 5 30 31
13. Roberts Alasdair America’s First Great Depression: Economic Crisis and Political Disorder after the Panic of 1837 2012 Ithaca Cornell University Press

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