The best books for a deep dive into the Transatlantic slave trade

Manu Herbstein Author Of Ama, a Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade
By Manu Herbstein

Who am I?

As an engineer, I have constructed bridges, highways, and power plants throughout Africa, and on journeys learned and explored the continent's history. My novel, Ama, a Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, won the 2002 Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Best First Book. My 200 plus sources, and excerpts from many of them, are listed on the companion website


I wrote...

Ama, a Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade

By Manu Herbstein,

Book cover of Ama, a Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade

What is my book about?

Ama is a neo-slave narrative set in the late 18th century. The novel follows the life of its eponymous protagonist from her youth in the African Sahel to old age in a Brazilian sugar estate, a life in which she balances resistance to the deprivation of her freedom with unavoidable accommodation to the power of her oppressors. It has four sections, entitled Africa (set in the north of today’s Ghana and in Kumase, capital of the Asante Empire); Europeans (set in the Dutch slave castle at Elmina); The Love of Liberty (set in the Middle Passage); and America (set in Bahia).

The books I picked & why

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Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa

By Paul E. Lovejoy,

Book cover of Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa

Why this book?

In this classic history, Paul Lovejoy examines how indigenous African slavery developed from the fifteenth to the early twentieth centuries within an international context, leading to the Atlantic trade conducted by Europeans and Americans. He describes the processes of enslavement and the marketing of slaves and assesses slavery's role in African and world history.


Elmina, 'The Little Europe': European Impact and Cultural Resilience

By Joseph K. Adjaye,

Book cover of Elmina, 'The Little Europe': European Impact and Cultural Resilience

Why this book?

This book is a brief introduction to the history of Elmina, its castle, the people, and their traditions. It outlines the town’s 500-year relations with Europeans, highlighting the transformations that have developed out of these interactions. Written by one of the top historians of Ghana and a leading scholar of the African diaspora, the book is based on original archival information and oral sources. It is richly informed by the writer’s own personal knowledge as a citizen of Elmina.


Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora

By Stephanie E. Smallwood,

Book cover of Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora

Why this book?

This book examines the interaction between Europeans and Africans in the Gold Coast slave trade during the seventeenth through eighteenth centuries, bringing the people aboard slave ships to life. Joseph C. Miller writes "No study of the Atlantic slave trade has attempted to penetrate the darkness of those ships' holds, to explore what might have gone on in the minds of the hundreds of nameless people trapped below decks―until now. Smallwood gets there through a tour de force of theoretical sophistication, sensitive informed imagination, and dramatic writing. Hers is the most original and provocative book on the Middle Passage in almost half a century.”


Slave Ship Sailors and Their Captive Cargoes, 1730-1807

By Emma Christopher,

Book cover of Slave Ship Sailors and Their Captive Cargoes, 1730-1807

Why this book?

Despite the vast literature on the transatlantic slave trade, the role of sailors aboard slave ships has remained unexplored. This book fills that gap by examining every aspect of their working lives, from their reasons for signing on a slaving vessel to their experiences in the Caribbean and the American South after their human cargoes had been sold. It explores how they interacted with men and women of African origin at their ports of call, from the Africans they traded with, to the slaves and ex-slaves they mingled within the port cities of the Americas. Most importantly, it questions their interactions with the captive Africans they were transporting during the dread middle passage, arguing that their work encompassed the commoditisation of these people ready for sale.


To Be a Slave in Brazil: 1550-1888

By Katia M. de Queiros Mattoso,

Book cover of To Be a Slave in Brazil: 1550-1888

Why this book?

In the introduction, dated July 1978, Mattoso writes. … my purpose in writing this book was to discover what life was really like for the slaves in Brazil … This book is addressed to an audience of general readers. I have therefore felt free to dispense with the usual scholarly apparatus of extensive footnotes and bibliography … Its title … signals my intention to adopt the standpoint of the slaves themselves … to trace the various stages in the lives of the slaves as individuals and of the slave group as a community.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in slaves, Africa, and Ghana?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about slaves, Africa, and Ghana.

Slaves Explore 58 books about slaves
Africa Explore 163 books about Africa
Ghana Explore 14 books about Ghana

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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