100 books like The Slave Ship

By Marcus Rediker,

Here are 100 books that The Slave Ship fans have personally recommended if you like The Slave Ship. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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

Nicholas Radburn Author Of Traders in Men: Merchants and the Transformation of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

From my list on how the Atlantic slave trade operated.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated by the Atlantic slave trade since 2007, when I first studied the business papers of a Liverpool merchant who had enslaved over a hundred thousand people. I was immediately struck by the coldness of the merchant’s accounts. I was also drawn to the ways in which the merchant’s profit-motivated decisions shaped the forced migrations and experiences of their victims. I have subsequently extended my research to examine slave traders across the vastness of the Atlantic World. I'm also interested in the ways that the slave trade’s history continues to shape the modern world, from the making of uneven patterns of global economic development to such diverse areas as the financing of popular music. 

Nicholas' book list on how the Atlantic slave trade operated

Nicholas Radburn Why did Nicholas love this book?

This book really helped me to look beyond slave trading merchants’ papers to think about the lived realities of the slave trade for those merchants’ victims.

Smallwood follows enslaved people from their initial sale on the African coast, aboard the slave ships, and then through their sale and seasoning in the English Americas—a model that brilliantly exposes the multi-staged way that captive Africans were commodified within the slave trade.

Saltwater Slavery also details the experiences of enslaved people within the trade, especially the mental and physical trauma that they suffered aboard the slave ships. 

By Stephanie E. Smallwood,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Saltwater Slavery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This bold, innovative book promises to radically alter our understanding of the Atlantic slave trade, and the depths of its horrors. Stephanie E. Smallwood offers a penetrating look at the process of enslavement from its African origins through the Middle Passage and into the American slave market.

Smallwood's story is animated by deep research and gives us a startlingly graphic experience of the slave trade from the vantage point of the slaves themselves. Ultimately, Saltwater Slavery details how African people were transformed into Atlantic commodities in the process. She begins her narrative on the shores of seventeenth-century Africa, tracing how…


Book cover of Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo"

Errick Nunnally Author Of All The Dead Men: Alexander Smith #2

From my list on history to thrill, disturb, and intrigue.

Why am I passionate about this?

Errick Nunnally was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and served one tour in the Marine Corps before deciding art school was a safer pursuit. He enjoys art, comics, and genre novels. A graphic designer, he has trained in Krav Maga and Muay Thai kickboxing. His work has appeared in several anthologies of speculative fiction. His work can be found in Apex Magazine, Fiyah Magazine, Galaxy’s Edge, Lamplight, Nightlight Podcast, and the novels, Lightning Wears a Red Cape, Blood for the Sun, and All the Dead Men.

Errick's book list on history to thrill, disturb, and intrigue

Errick Nunnally Why did Errick love this book?

This book is a raw peek into America’s troubled past. It’s a series of interviews that Hurston conducts with a man who was on the last slave ship to make the transatlantic passage. It is a difficult read on two levels: subject matter and English. Hurston presents the words of a man named Cudjo Lewis as authentically as possible. What may seem to some today as parody, is translated to the page with accuracy. For me it communicated first-hand some of the past my main character has lived through. Books like this help to inform my protagonist’s current attitude toward the world (Alexander Smith in Blood For The Sun and All The Dead Men).

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Barracoon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A major literary event: a never-before-published work from the author of the American classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God which brilliantly illuminates the horror and injustices of slavery as it tells the true story of the last known survivor of the Atlantic slave trade-illegally smuggled from Africa on the last "Black Cargo" ship to arrive in the United States.

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, to interview ninety-five-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of…


Book cover of Homegoing

Janice Weizman Author Of Our Little Histories

From my list on family dramas in a multi-generational perspective.

Why am I passionate about this?

For me, writing fiction is a way of tackling issues of fate and identity through storytelling. I believe we’re each the result of an intersection between personality and history and I’m interested in the way our time and place impacts us and creates a backdrop for our lives. My first novel, The Wayward Moon, is historical fiction set in the 9th-century Middle East. My second novel follows a Jewish family back six generations to Belarus. But no matter what period I’m writing about, the most important thing is always to tell a good story.

Janice's book list on family dramas in a multi-generational perspective

Janice Weizman Why did Janice love this book?

I really admire how this book traces two lines of a tumultuous family history through a series of short stories.

Opening in Ghana 250 years ago, the book follows two trajectories: one family branch that is kidnapped into slavery in America, and a second that remains in Africa while collaborating with slave traders.

This is a brave book that is not afraid to pose difficult questions, but in doing so, it opens a clear-eyed perspective on the way that history shapes us.

By Yaa Gyasi,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Homegoing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A BBC Top 100 Novels that Shaped Our World

Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader's wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel - the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself.…


Book cover of Two Years Before The Mast

Peter Copley Author Of Fife's Tin Box

From my list on the lives of seafarers and the dangers of the sea.

Why am I passionate about this?

Two events happened around the same time, 1950-51, that made me want to go to sea. One was seeing the movie Down to the Sea in Ships and the second was a 30-minute boat ride on the sea. I was about 9-years old at the time. I think I must have identified with the boy (Jed) in the novel and unlike my younger brother, I enjoyed the thrill of the wind and waves and I wasn’t seasick. From then on, I had a lifelong love of the sea, serving with the Merchant Navy, having my own seagoing boat and for 22 years teaching navigation and sailing knowledge to Sea Cadets. 

Peter's book list on the lives of seafarers and the dangers of the sea

Peter Copley Why did Peter love this book?

You do not have to be a lover of seafaring novels to enjoy Dana’s memoir and his vivid descriptions of people and places. Two Years Before the Mast is a masterpiece of writing. As an Englishman, I have always enjoyed reading American prose; Steinbeck, Hemingway, Melville, they seem to write clearly and to the point without the long-windedness of some authors. 

How times have changed since the days when Dana was a seaman, (even when I was at sea in the 1950s 60s, and 70s) to today’s conditions for seafarers. My nephew who is a chief engineer with BP has the same amount of leave as the time he spends at sea, (4 months max) with the internet, skyping, and Netflix. He is highly paid and flown home first class. My contract was for 12 months, no leisure facilities on the ship, a letter now and then, and a train…

By Richard Henry Dana,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Two Years Before The Mast as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

‘Two Years Before the Mast’ is a memoir by the American author Richard Henry Dana, published in 1840, having been written after a two-year sea voyage from Boston to California on a merchant ship starting in 1834. A film adaptation under the same name was released in 1946. It is the true story of Richard Henry Dana’s voyage aboard the merchant vessel the ‘Pilgrim’ on a trip around Cape Horn during the years 1834 to 1836. Dana was a student at Harvard when a case of the measles affected his vision. He left school and enlisted as a sailor on…


Book cover of Harlots, Hussies, & Poor Unfortunate Women: Crime, Transportation & the Servitude of Female Convicts, 1718-1783

Cian T. McMahon Author Of The Coffin Ship: Life and Death at Sea During the Great Irish Famine

From my list on maritime social history.

Why am I passionate about this?

As an emigrant myself (I left Ireland in the late 1980s), I’ve always been interested in understanding the process of moving from one place to another; of existing in that liminal space between “being here” and “being there.” I spent several years researching the letters and diaries of nineteenth-century Irish migrants for my book, The Coffin Ship, but found the answers led to new questions on how other peoples, in other places, have managed being somewhere between “here” and “there.” These are some of the books that have helped me along that long, emotional journey.

Cian's book list on maritime social history

Cian T. McMahon Why did Cian love this book?

Because the nineteenth-century sailing ship was such a male-dominated space, women were largely invisible in traditional histories of life at sea. Although Edith Ziegler’s book does not simply focus on the voyage itself (it includes analysis of female convicts’ lives before and after the journey as well), it does show how women combatted the “sexual opportunism and exploitation” that was endemic on convict transports. What’s great about this book is that even though many of its subjects were illiterate (and thus left precious few letters and diaries behind), Ziegler manages to unearth the women’s voices in authentic and moving ways.

By Edith M. Ziegler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Harlots, Hussies, & Poor Unfortunate Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Harlots, Hussies, and Poor Unfortunate Women, Edith M. Ziegler recounts the history of British convict women involuntarily transported to Maryland in the eighteenth century.

Great Britain's forced transportation of convicts to colonial Australia is well known. Less widely known is Britain's earlier programme of sending convicts - including women - to North America. Many of these women were assigned as servants in Maryland. Titled using Basing much of her powerful narrative on the experiences of actual women, Ziegler restores individual faces to women stripped of their basic freedoms. She begins by vividly invoking the social conditions of eighteenth-century Britain,…


Book cover of A Path in the Mighty Waters: Shipboard Life and Atlantic Crossings to the New World

Cian T. McMahon Author Of The Coffin Ship: Life and Death at Sea During the Great Irish Famine

From my list on maritime social history.

Why am I passionate about this?

As an emigrant myself (I left Ireland in the late 1980s), I’ve always been interested in understanding the process of moving from one place to another; of existing in that liminal space between “being here” and “being there.” I spent several years researching the letters and diaries of nineteenth-century Irish migrants for my book, The Coffin Ship, but found the answers led to new questions on how other peoples, in other places, have managed being somewhere between “here” and “there.” These are some of the books that have helped me along that long, emotional journey.

Cian's book list on maritime social history

Cian T. McMahon Why did Cian love this book?

Washington Irving once famously described a long sea voyage as a “blank page in existence.” Stephen Berry’s analysis of James Oglethorpe’s Georgia Expedition, which sailed from England to colonial Georgia in 1735, shows that the opposite was true. Rather than merely serve as the stage on which the human drama of migration played out, the sea voyage was a dynamic actor in the experience itself. Far from land, migrants had time and space to reconsider their views on society, religion, and identity in ways that shaped their new lives in America.

By Stephen R. Berry,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Path in the Mighty Waters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A vivid and revealing portrait of shipboard life as experienced by eighteenth-century migrants from Europe to the New World

In October 1735, James Oglethorpe's Georgia Expedition set sail from London, bound for Georgia. Two hundred and twenty-seven passengers boarded two merchant ships accompanied by a British naval vessel and began a transformative voyage across the Atlantic that would last nearly five months. Chronicling their passage in journals, letters, and other accounts, the migrants described the challenges of physical confinement, the experiences of living closely with people from different regions, religions, and classes, and the multi-faceted character of the ocean itself.…


Book cover of Star of the Sea

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated by "sea stories" since I could read, maybe before. I was born in Liverpool, my dad was in the navy, my family ran an 18th-century inn named the Turk’s Head after a nautical knot, and I’ve directed or written more than twenty films, plays, and novels with the sea as their setting. But they’re not really about the sea. For me, the sea is a mirror to reflect the human condition, a theatre for all the human dramas I can imagine. More importantly, I’ve read over a hundred sea stories for research and pleasure, and those I’ve chosen for you are the five I liked best.

Seth's book list on books about the sea that aren’t just about sailing on it, or fighting on it, or drowning in it, but are really about the human condition

Seth Hunter Why did Seth love this book?

I love this story because, for me, it’s a perfect example of why a ship is such a great platform for storytelling, a moving stage for a compelling cast of characters to act out the drama of their past and present lives while heading into an uncertain future.

The Star of the Sea is a "coffin ship," the name given to the leaking hulks that transported a million emigrants from Ireland to America during the Great Famine of the 1840s.

It’s a historical novel but for me, a timeless story about emigration and the human condition, of refugees fleeing the monsters of their past, war, famine, disease, whatever, into what they hope will be a brighter future, and of what happens to them on the way.

By Joseph O'Connor,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Star of the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

* Over a million copies sold *

Rediscover Joseph O'Connor's monumental #1 international bestseller.

In the bitter winter of 1847, from an Ireland torn by injustice and natural disaster, the Star of the Sea sets sail for New York.

On board are hundreds of fleeing refugees. Among them are a maidservant with a devastating secret, bankrupt Lord Merridith and his family, an aspiring novelist and a maker of revolutionary ballads, all braving the Atlantic in search of a new home. Each is connected more deeply than they can possibly know.

But a camouflaged killer is stalking the decks, hungry for…


Book cover of A Book of Tongues

Errick Nunnally Author Of All The Dead Men: Alexander Smith #2

From my list on history to thrill, disturb, and intrigue.

Why am I passionate about this?

Errick Nunnally was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and served one tour in the Marine Corps before deciding art school was a safer pursuit. He enjoys art, comics, and genre novels. A graphic designer, he has trained in Krav Maga and Muay Thai kickboxing. His work has appeared in several anthologies of speculative fiction. His work can be found in Apex Magazine, Fiyah Magazine, Galaxy’s Edge, Lamplight, Nightlight Podcast, and the novels, Lightning Wears a Red Cape, Blood for the Sun, and All the Dead Men.

Errick's book list on history to thrill, disturb, and intrigue

Errick Nunnally Why did Errick love this book?

This book falls under the category “urban fiction” or “magical realism” or “western” or…something. At least, that’s what drew me to it in the first place. It takes place in America’s old west, features magic-using criminals leading a gang and draws on some Native American lore. The magic is terrifying, it’s a mix of environmental and mind-altering hoodoo. The most powerful antagonist is rugged, homosexual, unashamed, and a conflicted terror of a person. His partner in crime is simply terrifying. Together, they drive a trilogy that’s so well threaded through the old west you can taste the grit as you turn the page. Though the emphasis is on the pursuit of magic and the machinations it drives, the settings are a delight to experience. Files weaves a world in these novels that is equally fascinating and terrifying. Her prose and daring are an inspiration.

By Gemma Files,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Book of Tongues as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Gemma Files has one of the great dark imaginations in fiction visionary, transgressive, and totally original." -Jeff VanderMeer

In Gemma Files's "boundary-busting horror-fantasy debut," former Confederate chaplain Asher Rook has cheated death and now possesses a dark magic (Publishers Weekly). He uses his power to terrorize the Wild West, leading a gang of outlaws, thieves, and killers, with his cruel lieutenant and lover, Chess Pargeter, by his side.

Pinkerton agent Ed Morrow is going undercover to infiltrate the gang, armed with a shotgun and a device that measures sorcerous energy. His job is to gain knowledge of Rook's power and…


Book cover of Pimp My Airship: A Naptown by Airship Novel

Errick Nunnally Author Of All The Dead Men: Alexander Smith #2

From my list on history to thrill, disturb, and intrigue.

Why am I passionate about this?

Errick Nunnally was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and served one tour in the Marine Corps before deciding art school was a safer pursuit. He enjoys art, comics, and genre novels. A graphic designer, he has trained in Krav Maga and Muay Thai kickboxing. His work has appeared in several anthologies of speculative fiction. His work can be found in Apex Magazine, Fiyah Magazine, Galaxy’s Edge, Lamplight, Nightlight Podcast, and the novels, Lightning Wears a Red Cape, Blood for the Sun, and All the Dead Men.

Errick's book list on history to thrill, disturb, and intrigue

Errick Nunnally Why did Errick love this book?

I don’t often read “steampunk” because it usually reflects the Victorian era of England or a ‘what if’ scenario involving the Confederacy and I’m just sick to death of the subjects. Along came “steamfunk,” an addition to the genre where the focus wouldn’t be on exclusively white characters, but Black sourced from the African continent. Then once upon a time, Broaddus cracked a joke on Twitter: “I’m going to write a steampunk story with an all-Black cast and call it ‘Pimp My Airship.’ To his chagrin (and eventual delight) several editors asked to see the story. The worldbuilding in this story is phenomenal. It take place in Indiana, part of an alternate history where England has established a “United States of Albion” and Native Americans have managed to retain a sizeable chunk of territory. There’s so much more to the book in relation to history and cultural norms. I thoroughly…

By Maurice Broaddus,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pimp My Airship as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Warning: Don’t Believe the Hype!

All the poet called Sleepy wants to do is spit his verses, smoke chiba, and stay off the COP’s radar—all of which becomes impossible once he encounters a professional protestor known as (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah. They soon find themselves on the wrong side of local authorities and have to elude the powers that be.

When young heiress Sophine Jefferson’s father is murdered, the careful life she’d been constructing for herself tumbles around her. She’s quickly drawn into a web of intrigue, politics and airships, joining with Sleepy and Knowledge Allah in a fight…


Book cover of Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America

Errick Nunnally Author Of All The Dead Men: Alexander Smith #2

From my list on history to thrill, disturb, and intrigue.

Why am I passionate about this?

Errick Nunnally was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and served one tour in the Marine Corps before deciding art school was a safer pursuit. He enjoys art, comics, and genre novels. A graphic designer, he has trained in Krav Maga and Muay Thai kickboxing. His work has appeared in several anthologies of speculative fiction. His work can be found in Apex Magazine, Fiyah Magazine, Galaxy’s Edge, Lamplight, Nightlight Podcast, and the novels, Lightning Wears a Red Cape, Blood for the Sun, and All the Dead Men.

Errick's book list on history to thrill, disturb, and intrigue

Errick Nunnally Why did Errick love this book?

Here is a book about history that is horrific, often referenced, and not as fully understood as it should be. It’s about entire towns erased from existence or whole segments of a population violently displaced in one night. Full of terrifying tales, the author began looking into the subject thinking there’d be several historical incidents and instead found too many to include in the book. It is a harrowing accounting of racial cleansing right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. and a potent reminder of how this country operated well into the twentieth century. Again, this sort of thing is good background to inform my character’s current attitude and makes for ripe pickings in flashbacks or background stories.

By Elliot Jaspin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Buried in the Bitter Waters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Leave now, or die!" Those words-or ones just as ominous-have echoed through the past hundred years of American history, heralding a very unnatural disaster-a wave of racial cleansing that wiped out or drove away black populations from counties across the nation. While we have long known about horrific episodes of lynching in the South, this story of racial cleansing has remained almost entirely unknown. These expulsions, always swift and often violent, were extraordinarily widespread in the period between Reconstruction and the Depression era. In the heart of the Midwest and the Deep South, whites rose up in rage, fear, and…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in slaves, Africa, and the African slave trade?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about slaves, Africa, and the African slave trade.

Slaves Explore 100 books about slaves
Africa Explore 251 books about Africa
The African Slave Trade Explore 32 books about the African slave trade