January 3, 2015 6:00 AM

Sven Beckert’s ‘Empire of Cotton’ traces a long legacy of misery

On one level, the Harvard history professor's book is about the omnipresence of a single, extremely versatile plant. But more than that, it’s a comprehensive look at the ways in which cotton has shaped life in America and in countries all over the world — sometimes for the better, yet all too frequently for the worse.

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