The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade 1440-1870

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No great historical subject is so laden with modern controversy or so obscured by myth and legend as the slave trade. Who were tbe slavers? How profitable was the business? Why did many African rulers and peoples collaborate? The strength of Hugh Thomas's book is that it begins with the first Portuguese slaving expeditions, before Columbus's voyage to the New World, and ends with the last gasp of the slave trade, long since made illegal elsewhere, in Cuba and Brazil twenty-five years after the American ...
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Overview

No great historical subject is so laden with modern controversy or so obscured by myth and legend as the slave trade. Who were tbe slavers? How profitable was the business? Why did many African rulers and peoples collaborate? The strength of Hugh Thomas's book is that it begins with the first Portuguese slaving expeditions, before Columbus's voyage to the New World, and ends with the last gasp of the slave trade, long since made illegal elsewhere, in Cuba and Brazil twenty-five years after the American Emancipation Proclamation. His narrative is vividly alive with villains and heroes, and illuminated by eyewitness accounts, many of which are published here for the first time. Hugh Thomas gives the reader the facts about the slave trade - shows us how whole towns, like Bristol and Liverpool in England, Nantes in France, or Newport in Rhode Island, grew and prospered on slavery; how each new discovery and colonization spurred the demand for slave labor. He confronts the thorny subject of Jewish involvement in the slave trade, documents the fact that many of the New England whaling captains became successful slavers on the side, and tells the story of the rising tide of the antislavery movement, first against the trade and then against the institution of slavery itself. He describes the work of men such as Montesquieu in France, Wilberforce in England, and Anthony Benezet in the United States who finally succeeded in turning public opinion against slavery and making it illegal in Europe and the New World.
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Editorial Reviews

Gregory Kane
More than just the history of the transatlantic peddling of human flesh. Thomas weaves a tale of merchants and slaves...surprisingly engaging. -- Baltimore Sun
Hardy Green
Masterly...an indispensable account. -- Business Week
John Thornton
A fine narrative history. -- New York Times Book Review
Robert B. Edgerton
The most comprehensive account of the Atlantic slave trade ever written.
— National Review
Library Journal
The age of exploration increased the slave trade, which had begun earlier with the Portuguese and didn't end in Brazil and Cuba until almost 1890. The volume was tremendous. Between 1492 and 1820, "five times as many Africans went to the New World as did white Europeans." Most of the great economic enterprises (sugar, cotton, etc.) of the first four centuries of colonization depended on slaves. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
YA-Thomas concentrates on the economics, social acceptance, and politics of the slave trade. The scope of the book is amazingly broad as the author covers virtually every aspect of the subject from the early days of the 16th century when great commercial houses were set up throughout Europe to the 1713 Peace Treaty of Utrecht, which gave the British the right to import slaves into the Spanish Indies. The account includes the anti-slavery patrols of the 19th century and the final decline and abolition in the early 20th century. Through the skillful weaving of numerous official reports, financial documents, and firsthand accounts, Thomas explains how slavery was socially acceptable and shows that people and governments everywhere were involved in it--from African kings and Arab slave traders to the Europeans and Americans who bought and transported them to the New World. Despite the volatility of the subject, the author remains emotionally detached in his writing, yet produces a highly readable, informative book. A superb addition to YA collections.-Robert Burnham, R. E. Lee High School, Springfield, VA
Kirkus Reviews
A masterful survey of the origins, development, nature, and decline of the trade in African men, women, and children, drawing heavily on original sources.

Thomas (Conquest: Montezuma, Cortés and the Fall of Old Mexico, 1994, etc.) argues that, while the practice of slavery was widespread in Europe even during the Middle Ages, it was the Portuguese, as their explorers began to establish trade in Africa in the 1440s, who turned an intermittent habit into a large and sophisticated business. Most other seafaring European nations—including the Spanish, English, and Dutch—soon followed. Drawing heavily on journals, state documents, business ledgers, and memoirs, Thomas is able to trace in astonishing detail how the business was run, who financed it, and what their profits were, and to explain the complex and profitable interactions of merchants and governments in the trade. Because Thomas is so thorough, there are numbers of surprises here, including the details of the longstanding collaboration of some African rulers with the slave trade. It's also startling to discover that, according to Thomas, approximately one in every ten slave ships experienced a slave rebellion—and that a few were even successful. The sailors in the trade, Thomas notes, were treated horribly themselves: The mortality rate of Dutch crews, for instance, hovered at about 18 percent, while on average about 12 percent of the Africans being transported died at sea. While this is primarily an economic and political history, Thomas does not slight the suffering of the slaves, nor the widespread corrupting effect of the trade on the nations involved in it. He concludes with a vivid history of the long struggle of the abolitionists, beginning in the 18th century, to make the trade illegal.

Grim but consistently gripping history, told with clarity and a meticulous attention to detail, this is likely to become the standard reference on the economics of the slave trade.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684810638
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 10/20/1997
  • Pages: 908
  • Product dimensions: 6.47 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.93 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 28, 2010

    Not for the casual history buff

    This book took me about 10 months to read, but I refused to give up on it and I'm glad I made it through. I did learn a lot by reading it, and I'm sure as time goes on I'll probably realize that I learned more than I thought I did. It was just sooooo long. A Cliff Notes version would have been sufficient. - - The book covers a good 400+ years of history, which is a lot for any book, and it has a lot of names in it (slaver traders, political leaders, etc.) - more than any person can possibly comprehend.

    I am really interested in U.S. History and the Civil War, so I went into the book hoping to learn about some of the things that helped precipitate the Civil War. The thing I learned was that the U.S. was one small part of something much bigger (the Atlantic Slave Trade). If I had to estimate, I'd say only about 10% of the book really dealt with the U.S.

    I probably would have gotten a lot more out of the book if I had a better understanding of World History and a better understanding of African geography. There were a lot of times in the book when I lost interest because I just couldn't keep up - mainly because I couldn't put things in context with the history I know (i.e. what was going on "here" at the same time).

    The other thing that disappointed me a bit was that the book really focused on the slave traders and the economic and political structure of the whole thing. I was hoping to read more about the Middle Passage and get an idea of the sights and sounds and smells (as horrible as I can only imagine they were). This reads much more like a history book than a novel though - kind of antiseptic - facts and figures. Overall, this book would probably be great for hard-core historians or people doing research. It's not a quick and easy history-buff type of read though.

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