PositiveThe Atlantic... a damning synthesis of the federal betrayals, mass deportations, and exterminatory violence that defined the 1830s ... Saunt’s greatest contribution is to weld the narrative of deportation to new histories of capitalism that emphasize slavery’s centrality to national economic development: He follows the money, exhaustively researching company correspondence and government records to show how bankers in Boston and London financed the dirty work of dispossession in collaboration with southern speculators. The result is a haunting story of racialized cruelty and greed, which came to define a pivotal period in U.S. and indigenous history alike ... In forensic detail, Saunt exposes how investment bankers on Wall Street and beyond got rich not simply by financing slavery but also by financing deportation ... At times, Saunt’s pessimistic narrative of unchecked and racialized avarice operates in tension with his more hopeful emphasis on anti-expulsion activism, and with his broader insistence that expulsion wasn’t inevitable. He might have strengthened his case by analyzing Jackson’s Whig Party adversaries, whose opposition to deportation defined their coalition more than any other issue of the 1830s ... Above all, Saunt’s uneasy toggling between commercial greed and anti-expulsion activism raises the question of whether American capitalism will always represent an amoral pursuit of profits, or whether it can ever factor justice into its bottom line. Saunt doesn’t ask such questions, but he invites them.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal[Sexton\'s] arguments are significant, if sometimes unsurprising ... Mr. Sexton hovers above the fray like an orbiting astronaut, offering a valuable view of what U.S. history might look like if you keep the rest of the planet in view ... The author’s radar has a harder time locating the global circulation of things less tangible but equally important, like political ideas and social movements ... Given Mr. Sexton’s emphasis on war, statecraft and global capital, maybe it’s to be expected that powerful white men would dominate his story ... To his credit, Mr. Sexton does believe these groups belong in his story. But he hasn’t entirely figured out how to weave them in. Perhaps that’s because their inclusion might change the story itself. For authors daring enough to embrace that challenge, Mr. Sexton’s book will be an excellent starting place.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalColumbia University historian Karl Jacoby unearths this remarkable story, skillfully casting Ellis as an exemplar of two archetypal figures: the self-made American who rises from rags to riches and the folkloric African-American trickster who runs circles around people alleged to be his superiors. Yet the book also reads like an American Odyssey, the larger-than-life story of a man who travels far in the wake of war and gets by on his adaptability and gift for gab ... You start off admiring Ellis: breathtakingly audacious, uncannily ambitious, smarter than the white supremacists whom he so easily deceived. But then you’re not so sure ... The biggest paradox, Mr. Jacoby reveals, is that even as Ellis battled discrimination at home, his schemes often worked to expand the global power of the United States and even its white-supremacist elements ... Sometimes I wanted Mr. Jacoby to probe further, speculate more; we learn what Ellis gained from passing, for example, but less about what he may have lost. Still, Mr. Jacoby goes beyond recent studies of passing by looking insistently abroad, entwining U.S. and Mexican history to reveal why national borders and racial borderlines were simultaneously fortified and permeable.