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The Slave Trade: History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870 [Paperback]

Hugh Thomas
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Jan 2006

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.

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The Slave Trade: History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870 + A Short History of Slavery + The Slave Ship: A Human History
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Product details

  • Paperback: 925 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; New Ed edition (5 Jan 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780753820568
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753820568
  • ASIN: 0753820560
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.2 x 5.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 102,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

Hugh Thomas's The Slave Trade takes a big-picture view of New World slavery in its international context. The Portuguese and Spanish who first came to Africa, he writes, arrived in search of gold. They found it, but they also found social systems in which the ransom, buying, and selling of human beings had long been established. These systems had existed in European antiquity, and now they were revived when, shortly after making contact with Africa, the European nations began to establish colonies on the other side of the Atlantic; the horrible traffic continued well into the 19th century. Thomas mines vast archives and previously published histories to make this sweeping and remarkably useful synthesis. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


A 'darkly compelling history of the trade'. (MAIL ON SUNDAY)

The most impressive single volume history of the subject. Combining grand narrative sweep with vivid, telling detail, Thomas provides an elegant synthesis of contemporary accounts and modern scholarship (LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS)

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First Sentence
"VERY EARLY in the morning, because of the heat," a few Portuguese seamen on the decks of half a dozen hundred-ton caravels, the new sailing ships, were preparing, on August 8, 1444, to land their African cargo near Lagos, on the southwest point of the Algarve, in Portugal. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informing and entertaining read 14 July 2003
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is probably the best book I have read on the slave trade. Hugh Thomas explores the origins and development of this deplorable enterprise with candour and insight. It is a well researched work, which is not couched in "high" academic speak, making it quite easy to read.
As the author chronicles the trade, sometimes through the words and actions of the principal players, one becomes aware of the moral ambiguities that characterised the trade from the start. By avoiding sweeping generalisations, he dispassionately addresses the mindsets of the slaving and enslaved peoples. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants an overview of the slave trade.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read!!!! 7 Mar 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a long book: a brick of 900 pages describing and discussing the transatlantic slave trade from the Portuguese start in the mid-15th century to the illegal period in the mid 19th century.
One has to be very interested in history to dwell into Hugh Thomas' immensely detailed historical description of the period. But if one is, this book is a true gold-mine: details about specific shipments and harbours; the lifes of slaves, traders and others who suffered (or benefitted) from the trade; the economic consequences and financial matters; the political and legal implications and debates on abolition. All come to life with an amazing sense of detail! I particularly enjoyed reading the background that got the horrible trade starting, as well as the long debate on its abolition, for which there were already people arguing in the 15th century.
Also, the hypocrisies of the entire trade come to life well in the descriptions, like the arguments of the African slaves being better off as slaves in the Americas than free men in Africa.
Such hypocritical statements are surely what one can learn from today, where there seems to be no less hypocrisy.
Great book, but can be a heavy read if you are only marginally interested in the transatlantic slave trade.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I think Hugh Thomas has done his work well here, maintining an objectivity that few authors achieve when approaching this sometimes sensetive subject. The facts and factors involved in the African trade in slaves and its subsequent exploitaion by Europeans has been documented without bias and served to the interested reader in the plainest of language.
Although the volume is a thick one, it's a must for those who have a vested or general interest in this poignant period of history. Once I picked it up I found it difficult to put down again. I hope whoever buys and reads it finds this publication equally informative.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A comprehensive view 20 May 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I needed information on a specific period in British slaving history and this book certainly provided most of the background I was after, but its world-wide examination of the subject, coupled with the span of history involved, inevitably meant that the author was unable to cover any one period or any one jurisdiction to the depth that I would have liked. As an overview of the subject, the book is excellent, but as a source of research on a specific area within this enormous subject, it failed to meet my personal needs.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Expansive and comprehensive 12 April 2010
By yr bghs
What more do you need to know about the Atlantic slave trade? This book will certainly have the answer. This mighty tome is now probably the definitive reference to the entire trade. It is massively comprehensive, taking a very broad look at the trade, so many nations were involved, their respective individual roles are thoroughly examined, and how they were interdependant becomes obvious. Thomas's main question is why did this continue for so long? The answer isn't as simple as 'many, many people were benefitting from this'.

This provactive book makes me look for a modern parallel for a such hideous conduct of man against man, something with monstrous consequences that have been so universally (and weakly) condemned for many generations, but have been so widely tolerated at the same time - a stark example is extreme poverty, famine, disease in the third world. Many many people are benefitting from this in the same way as countless others did during slavery.

The more things change... this book gives me an expansive, in-depth picture of those mechanisms (which defied religion, economics, and basic humanity) that made slavery endure, by extension may still ensure that third world exploitation and it's widespread misery persist.

Here are the roots of modern capitalism and globalisation.

Here is essential reading for anyone who doesn't understand the (enduring) impact of these centuries of monstrous and and also banal evil - not to persuade or convince but just to enlighten
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