The last book I read about southern poverty was horribly sad, and since this one said "deplorable" on it I thought it would be similarly evocative, but it was very, very dry instead. I like that it talks a lot about cost curves and rates of returns because it is simple for me to understand and compare. I got excited because it says that there was not a great overland method of transport which limited how competitive manufacturing firms could be because of high cost of transportation, and that was in The Bottom Billion as an example of why some nations fall behind their neighbors- not having a safe, reliable infrastructure for exports.
Basically the south was a bit more of a success at manufacturing than people think, but the relative profitability of agriculture and the resistance planters had to abandoning the agrarian ideal were limiting factors. There is an interesting and telling portion that explores myths and realities of slave labor's suitability to industrial manufacture. It says nothing about slaves in particular is unsuitable. I am not used to a book calling people capital with no disclaimer, and I was still taken aback when it said, "Whether an entire industrial system based on slave labor could have evolved remains an intriguing question" 33. In my notes I wrote, "This is why I can't think like an economist."
I liked that this book ended a hundred pages before I expected it to, because of the long appendix. And I learned two new terms:
ceteris paribus- other things equal
gristmill- a building where grain is ground into flour. (I thought this was called a "mill")