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The Sweetness of Life
Southern Planters at Home


Part of Cambridge Studies on the American South

  • Date Published: October 2017
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316502891
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About the Authors
  • This book examines the home and leisure life of planters in the antebellum American South. Based on a lifetime of research by the late Eugene Genovese (1930–2012), with an introduction and epilogue by Douglas Ambrose, The Sweetness of Life presents a penetrating study of slaveholders and their families in both intimate and domestic settings: at home; attending the theatre; going on vacations to spas and springs; throwing parties; hunting; gambling; drinking and entertaining guests, completing a comprehensive portrait of the slaveholders and the world that they built with slaves. Genovese subtly but powerfully demonstrates how much politics, economics, and religion shaped, informed, and made possible these leisure activities. A fascinating investigation of a little-studied aspect of planter life, The Sweetness of Life broadens our understanding of the world that the slaveholders and their slaves made; a tragic world of both 'sweetness' and slavery.

    • Provides an in-depth examination of the domestic and social lives of the antebellum planter class
    • Reveals how the sectional crisis affected white Southern leisure activities
    • Includes vivid descriptions of aspects of Southern life, such as theatre, vacations, horse racing, dancing, parties, and more
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'In crafting The Sweetness of Life, the late Eugene D. Genovese drew upon a long, illustrious career of research into the lives of white and black southerners. Agree with his conclusions or not, no historian played a larger role in recovering the complicated, turbulent world of antebellum cotton slavery. Gracefully edited by Douglas Ambrose, this brilliant and insightful study serves as a capstone to Genovese's fifty years of distinguished scholarship. A masterful achievement.' Douglas R. Egerton, Le Moyne College

    'Sparkling with insight and humanity, Eugene D. Genovese again delivers, this time posthumously. This book continues his examination of the slaveholder class, describing in detail the essential ways in which it created its own definition of hospitality, of manners, of leisure, and more as it rushed toward civil war. As usual for Genovese over a career of fifty years his writing is engaging and crystal clear, and the scholarship rich. The academy owes Genovese's devoted student, Douglas Ambrose, a debt of gratitude for shepherding this sweet, final bit of Genovese's oeuvre to publication. It is well worth the read.' Orville Vernon Burton, Clemson University, and author of The Age of Lincoln

    'In this subtly provocative work, Genovese pulls back the curtain on the lives of leisure planters made on the backs of black labor. A fitting coda to a corpus of immeasurable impact, The Sweetness of Life offers crucial insight into the mind of the Old South's master class.' Kathleen Hilliard, Iowa State University

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    Customer reviews

    16th Jul 2017 by Barb1073

    This work represents a lifetime of research on Antebellum Planters and their lives at home in leisure, pleasure and activities. Dr. Genovese also delves into the cultural and social lives of Planters and their families from across the South, which presents a new and fresh interpretation of Antebellum Southern History. This is a welcome addition to the study of Southern History prior to the Civil War.

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2017
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316502891
    • length: 308 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 151 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.46kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. A gracious people
    2. Dining room, parlor, and lawn
    3. Horses and hounds
    4. Vignettes: sundry pleasures
    5. Vignettes: charms of high life
    6. Home away from home
    7. Matters not so sweet
    Editor's epilogue.

  • Author

    Eugene D. Genovese
    Eugene D. Genovese, one of the most significant and distinguished historians of his time, spent a lifetime studying the society of the Old South. His books include The Political Economy of Slavery 1967), The World the Slaveholders Made (1988), In Red and Black (1973), From Rebellion to Revolution (1992), The Slaveholders' Dilemma (1992), A Consuming Fire (2009), and Roll, Jordan, Roll (1976), which was awarded the Bancroft Prize. With his wife, the late Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, he wrote Fruits of Merchant Capital (1983), The Mind of the Master Class (Cambridge, 2005), Slavery in White and Black (Cambridge, 2008), and Fatal Self-Deception (Cambridge, 2012). A past president of the Organization of American Historians, Genovese died in 2012.


    Douglas Ambrose, Hamilton College, New York
    Douglas Ambrose is the Carolyn C. and David M. Ellis Distinguished Teaching Professor of History at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. The author of Henry Hughes and Proslavery Thought in the Old South (1996) and co-editor of The Many Faces of Alexander Hamilton (2007), Ambrose was a student of both Eugene D. Genovese and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese.

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