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Tricentennial Reading List with Larry Powell (Part 2)

  •   The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic World, by Emily Clark
  • End of an Era, New Orleans, 1850-1861by Robert Reinders
  • The Many Panics of 1837: People, Politics, and the Creation of a Transatlantic Financial Crisisby Jessica Lepler
  • The Merchants’ Capital: New Orleans and the Political Economy of the 19th Century Southby Scott Marler
  •  Notorious Woman: The Celebrated Case of Myra Clark Gainesby Elizabeth Alexander
  • Judah P. Benjaminby Eli Evans
  • Cities of the Deadby Joseph Roach
  • American Indians in Early New Orleansby Daniel Usner
  • Slavery and Freedom, War and Reconstruction
  • Slavery’s Metropolis: Unfree Labor in New Orleans During the Age of Revolutionsby Rashauna Johnson
  • Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market, by Walter Johnson
  • Beyond Freedom’s Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight of Slavery, by Adam Rothman
  • New Orleans After the Civil War: Race Politics and a New Birth of Freedom, by Justin Nystrom
  • Uncivil Wars: Five New Orleans Street Battles and the Fall of Radical Reconstructionby James Hogue
  • An Absolute Massacre: The New Orleans Race Riot of July 30, 1866, by James Hollandsworth


Susan: Now, you've chosen a number of books for the Antebellum era which I'm no expert in. They are all so interesting, so diverse and a lot of them have to do with money.

Larry: Well, this was a money center par excellence. In fact, it was probably the second largest banking center in the country up to 1850, just behind Philadelphia and probably more business paper was discounted here during that period than anywhere else.

Susan: Then, of course, there's 'The Merchants' Capital: New Orleans and the Political Economy of the Nineteenth-Century South' by Scott Marler.

Larry: It's another fine book. It's amazing. It took so long to write that book. There have been books on the cotton factor. These are the main-- but that was for the South. There was a dissertation that's never been published from Harvard about some of these merchants but only up to about 1836 or so. He took the whole story and he did a marvelous job.

Susan: Another book that you chose that I thought was such a fascinating book is 'Notorious Woman: The Celebrated Case of Myra Clark Gaines' by Elizabeth Alexander.

Larry: You read that it's a 19th-century soap opera. She claimed that she was a legitimate daughter of one of the big fixers in this city, Daniel Clark, during the Spanish and early American period. Of course, being on the spot at the right time and the right place at the right time Dr. John said, he was able to engross a lot of property. He at one time owned almost all of Canal Street. When he died early, two of his understudies if you will, began to carve up that property and this woman, Myra Clark, claimed that she was actually the legitimate daughter. It's a Byzantine story but this became a case that I think went up before the Supreme Court 17 times.

['God Don't Like Ugly' by Wynton Marsalis]

Susan: One of the most important books is 'Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market' by Walter Johnson.

Larry: Yes. New Orleans was the center slave mart of America. It was a place where most of the human labor, the enslaved people who built the cotton Kingdom and also built out the sugar bowl were processed through. More enslaved people were sold in the slave marts of New Orleans then came to the United States which is now the United States from Africa during the heyday of the Atlantic slave trade. We're talking maybe 400,000 people.

It wasn't hidden. It was hidden in plain sight and it became the financial sinews of this great banking sector. A lot of the transactions were collateralized not with land but with slaves and enslaved people. The thing that is distinctive about Walter's book and it's quite frankly a brilliant, brilliant book is it's this discursive way he looks at the story. It's not just the finances, it's the way in which people make themselves by taking pride in how they can evaluate black flesh or by value--

It saw people like stock pickers, almost, since they think of themselves as masters of the universe because they know how to read the bond market. These folks I think have an inflated view of themselves by their putative skill in reading black bodies.

Susan: What a book that was.

['Slave Driver' by Cyril Neville]

The Reading Life in 2010, Susan Larson was the book editor for The New Orleans Times-Picayune from 1988-2009. She has served on the boards of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and the New Orleans Public Library. She is the founder of the New Orleans chapter of the Women's National Book Association, which presents the annual Diana Pinckley Prizes for Crime Fiction.. In 2007, she received the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the literary community. She is also the author of The Booklover's Guide to New Orleans. If you run into her in a local bookstore or library, she'll be happy to suggest something you should read. She thinks New Orleans is the best literary town in the world, and she reads about a book a day.

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