On the assumption that the Caribbean islands have a basically common experience and outlook, the author has undertaken a survey of their social and economic development. This he does from the perspective of the region itself from pre-Columbian times to the present. Although there are no footnote references, a critical bibliography is provided, and the scholarship is sound. The style, despite some resort to jargon, is usually smooth. A political chronology designed to clarify events not covered in the text contains much nonpolitical material. Six tables of statistics on population and sugar oddly contain no figures after 1894.

In tracing Spain’s conquests in the area and its subsequent loss of hegemony to other powers, Knight covers the efforts of the first Europeans to establish settlements. Soon the non-Spanish countries shifted to outright exploitation to produce staples for export, mainly sugar, as the Spanish themselves did in the late eighteenth century, thus involving a heavy investment in slavery. The author ably depicts the social scene with its divisions of whites, free colored, and slaves, as well as the gradations within each group and the disturbing effects of buccaneers and escaped slaves.

By the nineteenth century, the plantation slave society gave way as Haiti became free and the world economy changed. Knight discounts the humanitarian motives of the abolitionists and insists that the freed slaves proved the colonists wrong by being eager to work for themselves. Because they did, heavy importation of Asians for cheap labor ensued. Nevertheless, economic conditions continued to grow worse.

Having rightly shown the fundamental similarity of the controls exercised by the various powers through the centuries, the author regards them as antiquated by the mid-nineteenth century. The colonies began to become charges, with the European elites regarding themselves as transients and the metropolises displaying, as he says, maudlin paternalism and exasperated contempt until they gladly unloaded most of their possessions in this century. American replacement of European imperialism was scarcely an improvement, even in the case of Puerto Rico. The Castro resolution of economic inequality is pictured as a model attractive to other islands. In all, Knight concludes, the area is revolutionary and should generate its own solutions rather than copy external examples.