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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informing and entertaining read
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...
Published on 14 July 2003 by A. O. P. Akemu

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Thousand Pages Do Not Make a Book
When I bought this book I was looking for a good introduction to a massive subject. Numerous plates suggested it was not aimed at specialists. After three months I feel only relief to have completed the tedious and difficult task of reading it. Looking now at Amazon it is the low star reviews with which I agree.
The author, an eminent historian, has clearly done a...
Published 14 months ago by gerardpeter


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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informing and entertaining read, 14 July 2003
By 
A. O. P. Akemu "Ona" (Rotterdam, The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Slave Trade: History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870 (Paperback)
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
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Erik Cleves Kristensen "ECK" (Mozambique) - See all my reviews
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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
5.0 out of 5 stars A real eye-opener for those who want their eyes opened!!, 3 Jan. 2000
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This review is from: The Slave Trade: History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870 (Paperback)
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
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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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Thousand Pages Do Not Make a Book, 2 April 2014
When I bought this book I was looking for a good introduction to a massive subject. Numerous plates suggested it was not aimed at specialists. After three months I feel only relief to have completed the tedious and difficult task of reading it. Looking now at Amazon it is the low star reviews with which I agree.
The author, an eminent historian, has clearly done a great deal of research [perhaps with the help of assistants]. However, he has not arranged his findings in a way that this reader could follow. A vast amount of detail is presented. Facts trivial and significant, pertinent and peripheral are thrown together. Paragraphs, pages and indeed whole chapters are no more than annotated lists of ports, merchants and shipowners. Primary sources are quoted at length and far too frequently; it comes over as a cut and paste job. Statistics pop up from time to time throughout the text, but are so random as to carry little weight. A few well-presented tables [with sources appended] would have made a world of difference.
For all the detail there seemed no human dimension to the narrative, at any rate from the point of view of the slave. Some critics have rightly suggested that this is a history of the slave trader. The book provides copious information on individuals who built or bought ships, those who captained them and those who invested in the organization of their voyages. Space is given too to the individuals who were bribed and the politicians who were complicit. It is true that the forces ranged against the trade are discussed and described. But the slaves themselves - it is though they are just the cargo, the freight.
Academic historians have pointed to other deficiencies. Hugh Thomas is a specialist on Spanish America, but critics have noted inaccuracies and deficiencies in his presentation of the African dimension of the trade. He does not raise or discuss the opinions of other historians. He avoids any kind of debate.
It is true the book is claimed as narrative history, which was indeed what I was looking for. However, the narration does not flow and the "story" is impossible to follow. The author switches back and forth, he repeats himself and all too often goes up irrelevant dead-ends. I could not make head nor tail of the half-century after the Slave Trade Act of 1807. Eventually the commerce stopped in the 1860s - don't press me beyond that. Narrative history should not preclude analysis or explanation. The Slave Trade does not tackle the underlying causes for the rise or decline of this commerce. Only in a few pages at the end does he present any kind of overview.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Expansive and comprehensive, 12 April 2010
This review is from: The Slave Trade: History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870 (Paperback)
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive book on the subject, 31 Aug. 2014
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Excellent and comprehensive. Please note this book is massive!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars massive research work, 17 Jan. 2013
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This is as close to a definitive work on the Atlantic slave trade as it is ever likely to see the light of day. There is an immense amount of information in 900 pages of intense reading. This book takes some to read and absorb. I would have liked it to be shorter, there is way too much detail here that does not add much to the points the author is trying to make. It does add to the time necessary for the reader to complete the book however!

I was surprised to learn that the biggest share of the Atlantic slave trade was handled by the Portuguese (about 38% of the total). The role of the pope in arbitrating disputes over slave trade concessions between them and the Spanish is explained in detail.

Actually the biggest slavers were the African chiefs themselves. While many slaves were kidnapped, many were actually bought from local chiefs. Africans held slaves themselves, and sold them to the best buyers. The King of the Ashanti Empire in West Africa asked the British why they were stopping the slave trade when the Arab traders were as busy as ever... did they not share the same God? In fact slaves under the Arabs were usually worse off because they were not allowed to bring or raise their families as was the case of the slaves in the Americas.

I appreciated the detached approach of the book, always useful in any serious research but especially in the case of a controversial issue like this one, where a writer might fall into the temptation of political correctness.
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10 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Plenty of pages, very poor perspective on slavery, 16 Mar. 2011
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Hopefully this book will not be the last thing written about the Slave Trade. There is still room for much improvement in the study.

1. Although a fairly thick book, it is by no means comprehensive. As the title suggests, it is limited to the Atlantic Slave trade (therefore ignoring completely other chapters of equal rellevance and totally connected to the topic of the book, such as the large scale slavery of the Belgian Congo, or the traffic into the eastern islands of Mauritius, the trade to the Arab world, the particularly dire consequences of trade in the Sudan -with open British approval, if not participation-, etc.). A mention would have at least shown that the author appreciates the link between them. It seems he does not.

2. The fastous amount of detail in particular facts (the lives of petty slave traders, etc.) are interesting enough, but stand in a glaring, starking contrast to the absolute lack of information about the subjects concerned: the slaves themselves. The author does admit this point far into the book, but at that point it's a bit too late (it would have been common sense to foresee this limitation in access to historical data and warn the reader right at the beginning). I would recommend Ira Berlin's books them over Hugh Thomas' very poor account because they offer an in depth on the life and social, cultural and economic dynamics of slaves in the Americas. The perspective is rewarding, especially the fragile balance of power that shifted from slaveholder to enslaved person, and how these changed over time and region. in contrast, Hugh Thomas' book is simply a fairly mediocre attempt at looking at the slave trade. His unwillingness to balance slave life with slaveholder life is abismal, in my view, akind to writing about the Holocoust with 70% on Nazi life (i.e. what beverages did the most enjoy, who was the SS tailor, who made the shiny boots) and only a tokenist mention at the people who suffered their wrath (i.e. they were Jews or something like that, they suffered terribly). If thats the most empathic approach from a worldclass scholar, excuse my disgust towards it.

3. The consequences of slavery are obviously an uncomfortable issue for Hugh Thomas: he skims very lightly over it, especially when compared to the exhausting level of detail he dwells into in other parts of the slave trade, from the boat making to the port-handling in Europe to the merchandise exchanged for slaves, etc.

4. His presentation of the abolitionist movement is solid (and long), but surprisingly lacking any perspective as to the social connotations this had in the various American territories concerned (from the US to the Caribbean, even within the time frame that concerns Hugh Thomas). Let alone the foundation of Liberia and the towns of Libreville and Freetown, all intrinsically related to the topic of his book (in matter of study and in time frame) but utterly ignored by the author. In his decision to flood pages with data and leave more nuanced perspective for a later day, Hugh Thomas leaves the reader in complete ignorance over the changing fortunes of abolitionism in various parts of mainland America, and how quite often the abolition of Trade Across the Atlantic was actually a catalyst for a boom in Internal Slave trade in North America.

To be honest, it read more like an attempt at the history of the slave trade by a renowned historian who has no difficulty accessing long lists of data but has a harder time giving any sense to it all. I can't recommend this book as an authoritive account of the Slave Trade at all.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review by Military Historian, 8 Nov. 2010
This is an absorbing, detailed account of the origin and development of the slave trade. Extensively researched and skilfully written. This is a book to be read and I strongly recommend it to the general public.
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The Slave Trade: History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870
The Slave Trade: History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870 by Hugh Thomas (Paperback - 18 Sept. 1998)
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