Trouble of the World

Slavery and Empire in the Age of Capital

By Zach Sell

352 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 10 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6134-6
    Published: January 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6045-5
    Published: January 2021
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-6046-2
    Published: November 2020

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Awards & distinctions

2021 Paul E. Lovejoy Prize, Journal of Global Slavery

In this innovative new study, Zach Sell returns to the explosive era of capitalist crisis, upheaval, and warfare between emancipation in the British Empire and Black emancipation in the United States. In this age of global capital, U.S. slavery exploded to a vastness hitherto unseen, propelled forward by the outrush of slavery-produced commodities to Britain, continental Europe, and beyond. As slavery-produced commodities poured out of the United States, U.S. slaveholders transformed their profits into slavery expansion. Ranging from colonial India to Australia and Belize, Sell’s examination further reveals how U.S. slavery provided not only the raw material for Britain’s explosive manufacturing growth but also inspired new hallucinatory imperial visions of colonial domination that took root on a global scale. What emerges is a tale of a system too powerful and too profitable to end, even after emancipation; it is the story of how slavery's influence survived emancipation, infusing empire and capitalism to this day.

About the Author

Zach Sell is visiting assistant professor of history at Drexel University.
For more information about Zach Sell, visit the Author Page.


"With obvious import for our understanding of the historical bases of present crises in the U.S. and around the world today, Trouble of the World offers tremendous insight, detail and argument to the reader. The research is meticulous and the detailed findings from small case studies are all purposefully woven into an argument about how the demands of emergent global capitalism in the mid-nineteenth century were generative in reworking racial domination and colonial occupation."—Ethnic and Racial Studies

“Zach Sell writes a powerful history of global capitalism as racialized domination…revitalizes a Black intellectual thesis of racial capitalism, beyond doubt.”—Business History Review

“[This] majestic work applies a close reading of the collected works of W. E. B. Du Bois to archival material from England, India, Australia, Belize, and the United States to articulate the global scope of seemingly “national” issues. . . . As Sell painstakingly demonstrates, the so-called Pax Britannica produced not peace but a world defined by imperial violence and destruction in service of metropolitan capitalist profit and plunder.” —Journal of Southern History

“An expansive, thought-provoking work worthy of reading by those seeking to better understand the global intersections of slavery, race, and capitalism.”—North Carolina Historical Review

Trouble of the World asks readers to wrestle with the complexities of a world imperialism has shaped. Notably, Sell's contribution extends understandings of the global entanglements, elevating the idiosyncrasies of interconnections through an analysis that integrates Atlantic and Pacific frames.”—H-Labor

"The book is terrific. It advances our historical understanding by showing how U.S. slavery was not just one input into the development of global capitalism, but rather a signal paradigm for the formation of capitalism in a number of regions."--Andrew Zimmerman, George Washington University