After many years of research, award-winning historian Hugh Thomas portrays, in a balanced account, the complete history of the slave trade. Beginning with the first Portuguese slaving expeditions, he describes and analyzes the rise of one of the largest and most elaborate maritime and commercial ventures in all of history. Between 1492 and 1870, approximately eleven million black slaves were carried from Africa to the Americas to work on plantations, in mines, or as servants in houses. The Slave Trade is alive with villains and heroes and illuminated by eyewitness accounts. Hugh Thomas's achievement is not only to present a compelling history of the time but to answer as well such controversial questions as who the traders were, the extent of the profits, and why so many African rulers and peoples willingly collaborated. Thomas also movingly describes such accounts as are available from the slaves themselves.
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.