Overrated Book

Fogel, Robert William, and Stanley L. Engerman, Time on the Cross (1974).

The most overrated book is surely Fogel and Engerman's Time on the Cross, a book that is a perfect example of putting real intelligence and great skill to use in answering a meaningless question, the profitability of slavery. The lessons that echo down the halls of history about slavery and race relations have a good deal to do with slavery as an economic practice, but not with its ultimate profitability. Indeed, we are reminded almost every day that color and ethnicity have and do matter in the ways in which history works itself out, whether the institutions of discrimination with which they are associated produced a profit or not. I would give Time on the Cross the award for most useless historical question posed, answered, and then forgotten.

By Kermit L. Hall, President and Professor of History, Utah State University

Kermit L. Hall holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Minnesota and a MSL from the Yale Law School. His research and teaching have concentrated on American constitutional and legal history, and he is the author of The Magic Mirror: Law in American History (Oxford University Press, 1991), and the editor-in-chief of the award winning Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (1992). He is also the author or co-author of five other books, more than 100 articles in history, political science, and law journals, and the editor or co-editor of twelve other works. President Hall also served as one of the five members of the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board from 1994-1999.