The Slave Trade

The Slave Trade

The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870

Book - 1997
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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 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.
Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, c1997.
ISBN: 9780684810638
Branch Call Number: 382.44 Tho 3578au 1
382.44 THO
Characteristics: 908 p., [32] p. of plates : ill.


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Jan 29, 2019

I was looking forward to reading this big brick of a book, and, with respect to what I anticipated from a scholarly quality, it was satisfied, but from the point of view of what I expected from a reader's engagement, I was quite disappointed. It is rather dry, not much to the narration, nor characterization of individuals or society or social norms or social institutions, nor even description of places, not even plot (in the sense of getting hooked in by the feeling of 'what went down'). It takes him until page 304 to give us a description of the ships. And, shortly afterwords, at page 315ff, does he tell us about the business side of things. It was afterall a slave *trade*, there was a transaction, and he tells what the quid pro quo was in different times and places (rather late). Almost half the book is about the institution's abolition and extermination (from page 450 to the end, p. 798), however, the efforts, or the lack thereof, to end the Islamic slaving was mentioned, but not followed up on.
In the morally gruesome business, there are some things that stood out: "The Avikam [a local African group] obtained, by theft or purchase, as many female slaves as they could, in order to boost births, so as in turn to be able to sell the children." (page 346) "The distant, but all the same vile, smell of vomit, sweat, stale urine, and feces wafting over the port concerned would let it know that a slave ship had arrived." (pg. 432)
The index is huge, the notes almost entirely referential (but sometimes mistaken because of the method used to keep it looking tidy), the maps were too few and insufficiently detailed, the page layout was awkward to read because they were 43 lines of text with the lines being long (they should have used larger type and added pages).

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