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Sunday, December 26, 2004; Page BW10

Population Count

In James Campbell's review of Slavery and the Making of America (Book World, Dec. 12), he writes, "In the 340 years after Columbus's voyage . . . some 12 million people migrated from the old world to the new. Of those, about 2 million were Europeans, while the other 10 million were African slaves." In 1860 the population of the United States was 31,444,000, of which 3,954,000 (13 percent) were slaves. Did James Campbell transpose the numbers?


_____Special Report_____
Census 2000

Montgomery Village, Md.

James Campbell replies:

The numbers are indeed shocking, but they are not transposed. Estimates vary -- some place European immigration at over 3 million, and African forced migration at over 12 million -- but by any measure African slaves vastly outnumbered white migrants.

The figures, remember, pertain to all the Americas, not just mainland North America, which received the bulk of European immigration and only a fraction of the total slave trade (about 6 percent, or 600,000 people). Most slaves were imported into the sugar colonies of the Caribbean and Central and South America, where they died off in appalling numbers. Brazil alone consumed more than 4 million Africans.

That whites came to outnumber blacks in the New World so dramatically is a function of relative mortality. While the white population had increased more than five-fold by 1830 (the U.S. census that year counted 10,524,000 whites), those 10 million Africans had left fewer than 5 million living descendants. About 2 million of them lived in the United States, which, with its temperate climate and relative freedom from tropical disease, was the only New World society in which the slave population successfully reproduced itself.

This thoughtful letter confirms my main point: that few Americans today appreciate the scope, scale and significance of New World slavery.

A Matter of Balance

Having grown up in New York City during the 1960s, I have always considered my formative hours spent with the New York Times Book Review an important part of my education. As time wore on through the '70s and into the '80s, I became disenchanted by what I perceived to be an excessively ideological bent to the book review in that publication and ceased my weekly perusal. I am uncertain whether the Times changed or I changed or both, but change occurred.

Moving south in the '90s, I sampled The Washington Post's Book World. It seemed less overtly partisan and ideological; I missed having a book section to read each Sunday, so I became a regular. Again, I cannot say with certainty if you are changing or if I just noticed. Perhaps I am just mildly dyspeptic today. But your leanings are showing in overt fashion.

In Judith Warner's review of Home-Alone America (Book World, Nov. 21), Mary Eberstadt's critical study of the impact of society's choice to substitute day care, mind-altering drugs and government bureaucrats for parents, Eberstadt is referred to as a "conservative social critic" in the opening sentence of paragraph two. She is critiqued as an "ideologue" and for being "nasty," and her conclusions and the effectiveness of her work are brought into question. Fair enough.

On the same page, Frances Fox Piven reviews Jason DeParle's American Dream. A former New York Times reporter who covered the "welfare and poverty beat," DeParle is never referred to as liberal, left-leaning or in any way tainted by ideology. Is it me, or were you noticeably tougher on Eberstadt that you were on DeParle?

It is interesting to count how many time a publication uses "conservative" or some similar adjectival substitute for thought to classify some person, book or opinion. Then compare that to the number of times "liberal" or something similar is used in that fashion. For The Washington Post in general and Book World in particular, the answers, respectively, are frequently and almost never. If that isn't letting ideology color your conclusions, I don't know what is.

I expect that I'll keep reading Book World for the foreseeable future. The ideological prejudices inherent in your pages are sufficiently transparent to be seen through and discarded. They even add a level of entertainment, and who doesn't enjoy the occasional "Aha, gotcha!" over the French Roast? But I worry for the young people who have not yet developed the critical capacity to separate the cultural wheat from the ideological chaff contained therein.

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