The Atlantic slave trade was one of the largest and most elaborate maritime and commercial ventures. Between 1492 and about 1870, ten million or more black slaves were carried from Africa to one port or another of the Americas.
In this wide-ranging book, Hugh Thomas follows the development of this massive shift of human lives across the centuries until the slave trade's abolition in the late nineteenth century.
This monumental study of one of the grimmest subjects in the history of Western civilization combines scholarship and good writing so effortlessly that few contemporary books can be compared to it. As Thomas (The Spanish Civil War) points out, the one voice not heard in his book is that of the slaves themselves. He's not interested in belaboring what we already know--that slavery is morally repugnant; instead he gives us a brilliant history of the business of slavery, an industry that thrived for over 400 years along the Atlantic rim. His account begins with the 15th-century African trade, dominated by Portugal and Spain. The book then enters the 17th and 18th centuries, when the trade was dominated by Protestant northern Europe, especially England and, later, the United States. Thomas covers slave ports in Africa, the shipping business, the manner in which goods were traded for slaves and the abolitionist movement (more in England than in the U.S.). The final sections focus on how the increased prohibition of the slave trade in the 19th century affected international relations and how, once slavery became illegal in some nations, conditions for the slaves became even worse. Perhaps for North Americans, the greatest lesson in the book is the realization that slavery was not a uniquely American problem.