The best books on the African slave trade

1 authors have picked their favorite books about the African slave trade and why they recommend each book.

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Transformations in Slavery

By Paul E. Lovejoy,

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

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.


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 Atlantic Slave Trade from West Central Africa, 1780-1867

By Daniel B. Domingues da Silva,

Book cover of The Atlantic Slave Trade from West Central Africa, 1780-1867

In this book, Daniel B. Domingues da Silva traces the origins of the enslaved men, women, and children shipped from West Central African ports as well as their methods of enslavement. Silva has been part of the group of scholars who organized the Voyages, the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database. In this book, he draws upon archival research and the quantitative data found in the database to analyze the scale and organization of the forced migration of enslaved Africans to the Americas. Silva demonstrates that an important proportion of the enslaved Africans exported to the Americas in the nineteenth century originated from coastal areas. Therefore, his findings bring into question the theory of an expanding slave frontier inland.


Who am I?

I am a professor of African history at the Royal Military College of Canada, where I teach courses on European colonialism and early and modern Africa. I earned a PhD in history from York University in Canada and spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto before joining RMC. My research interests include slavery, slave trade, legitimate commerce, and intercultural marriages in Luanda and its hinterland. I have published articles and book chapters and co-edited (with Paul E. Lovejoy) Slavery, Memory and Citizenship. My first book, Slave Trade and Abolition was published by the University of Wisconsin Press in January 2021.


I wrote...

Slave Trade and Abolition: Gender, Commerce, and Economic Transition in Luanda

By Vanessa Oliveira,

Book cover of Slave Trade and Abolition: Gender, Commerce, and Economic Transition in Luanda

What is my book about?

Well into the early nineteenth century, Luanda, the administrative capital of Portuguese Angola, was one of the most influential ports for the transatlantic slave trade. Between 1801 and 1850, it served as the point of embarkation for more than 535,000 enslaved Africans. In the history of this diverse, wealthy city, the gendered dynamics of the merchant community have frequently been overlooked.

Vanessa S. Oliveira traces how existing commercial networks adapted to changes operating in the South Atlantic during the nineteenth century. Slave Trade and Abolition reveals the strategies adopted by slavers in face of the ban on slave exports in 1836. Oliveira shows that large-scale merchants survived the end of the slave trade becoming the main investors in the "new" trade in tropical commodities, including ivory, wax, coffee, cotton and sugar.

That Most Precious Merchandise

By Hannah Barker,

Book cover of That Most Precious Merchandise: The Mediterranean Trade in Black Sea Slaves, 1260-1500

That Most Precious Merchandise offers a much needed and evocatively-written reassessment of the experience of slavery in the late medieval Mediterranean. Tracing the networks of the slave trade from the Black Sea to Genoa, Venice, and Cairo, it argues that the Italian maritime powers and the Mamluk sultanate shared a similar approach to slavery. By re-assessing Black Sea slavery from the vantage point of both Italy and Egypt, Barker discerns commonalities in systems and approaches to slavery across cultures—she calls this a common culture of slavery. She presents as the principal themes of the book a series of conceptions and practices of slavery that cut across confessional and cultural lines, upending a number of fundamental paradigms that have shaped, and limited, the scholarly terrain. 


Who am I?

Having lived in North America, Europe, and the Middle East, and visited many, many more countries, I am a traveler first and foremost. I travel because I like getting to know different types of people and seeing how they live and how they think about the world and about their place in it. As a historian, I can travel back in time to places even more exotic than one can visit today. My favorite place is the Mediterranean world in the Middle Ages – an exciting environment where Christians, Muslims, and Jews from Africa, Europe, and Asia, came together sometimes in conflict, but as often as not in collaboration or friendship.


I wrote...

Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors: Faith, Power, and Violence in the Age of Crusade and Jihad

By Brian Catlos,

Book cover of Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors: Faith, Power, and Violence in the Age of Crusade and Jihad

What is my book about?

The Mediterranean world of 1050–1200 is usually seen as an age of intractable conflict between Christians, Muslims, and Jews – of holy war, Crusades, and religious violence. Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors takes from Christian and Muslim Spain, through North Africa and Italy and on to Egypt, the Holy Land, and Byzantium, surveying the politics and society of this period from the ground up and showing that despite warfare and rhetoric of religious violence members of the three religious communities were deeply embroiled in each other’s affairs.

We find Jews and Christians wielding power in Muslim kingdoms and Muslims and Jews in positions of power in Crusader Europe, and Crusaders and Muslims launching alliances to battle their own co-religionists. Religion may have been the language of conflict but it was pragmatism and personal ambition that drove politics.

Capitalism and Slavery

By Eric Williams,

Book cover of Capitalism and Slavery

This book remains a classic almost a century after its publication. Written by a black Oxford-educated scholar who would lead Trinidad to independence and become its first black prime minister, it shows readers how slaveholders in Britain’s West Indian colonies reaped immense fortunes, and how this wealth, invested in Britain’s infrastructure, helped create the Industrial Revolution and make Britain a global economic powerhouse. Lucidly written, it continues to inspire debate about the connections between slavery in the sugar fields of the Caribbean and the rise of the factory in England’s industrial heartlands.

Who am I?

Americans view the Caribbean as a place apart, ideal for a beach vacation, but I see it as a region settled by the English in the same era and for the same reasons as the “Thirteen Colonies,” and separated less by physical distance than by the fact that the West Indies chose not to enter the American Revolution. Questions about racial identity and the effects of slavery play out there in ways both comparable to and distinct from these processes in the U.S. I have studied the English Caribbean for 25 years, and am especially interested in how its histories connect with those of colonial America and Georgian Britain.


I wrote...

Settler Society in the English Leeward Islands, 1670-1776

By Natalie Zacek,

Book cover of Settler Society in the English Leeward Islands, 1670-1776

What is my book about?

Settler Society is the first study of the history of the federated colony of the Leeward Islands – Antigua, Montserrat, Nevis, and St. Kitts – that covers all four islands in the period from their independence from Barbados in 1670 up to the outbreak of the American Revolution, which reshaped the Caribbean as well as the mainland American colonies.

Natalie A. Zacek emphasizes the extent to which the planters of these islands attempted to establish recognizably English societies in tropical islands based on plantation agriculture and African slavery. By examining conflicts relating to ethnicity and religion, controversies regarding sex and social order, and a series of virulent battles over the limits of local and imperial authority, this book depicts these West Indian colonists as skilled improvisers who adapted to an unfamiliar environment, and as individuals as committed as other American colonists to the norms and values of English society, politics, and culture.

Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

By David Eltis, David Richardson,

Book cover of Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

This is best viewed as a template for the vast historiography of the slave trade that includes studies of the slave ship, the crews, the horrors of the “middle passage” and the organized acquisition in Africa and disposal in the Americas of African bodies. The Atlas is a graphic summary of the comprehensive base compiled by Eltis and his colleagues.


Who am I?

I taught American, European, and World History at the University of British Columbia for over 30 years. I was constantly reminded of the dynamics and consequences of slavery and how a history of black America should be more prevalent in understanding the development of American culture, institutions, and identity over time. In writing two books on colonial America and the American Revolution, the roots of America’s racial divide became clearer and the logic of permanence seemed irresistible. My Shaping the New World was inspired by a course I taught for years on slavery in the Americas. Compiling the bibliography and writing the chapters on slave women and families helped to refine my understanding of the “peculiar institution” in all its both common and varied characteristics throughout the Americas.


I wrote...

Shaping the New World: African Slavery in the Americas, 1500-1888

By Eric Nellis,

Book cover of Shaping the New World: African Slavery in the Americas, 1500-1888

What is my book about?

Between 1500 and the middle of the nineteenth century, some 12.5 million slaves were sent as bonded labour from Africa to the European settlements in the Americas. Shaping the New World introduces students to the origins, growth, and consolidation of African slavery in the Americas and race-based slavery's impact on the economic, social, and cultural development of the New World.

While the book explores the idea of the African slave as a tool in the formation of new American societies, it also acknowledges the culture, humanity, and importance of the slave as a person and highlights the role of women in slave societies.

Britain's Black Debt

By Hilary McD Beckles,

Book cover of Britain's Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide

The best book on the legal basis for reparations from the Caribbean’s foremost historian. It offers a historical examination of the justification for reparations for the cost and lost labor the British gained during enslavement and brings together African and indigenous people's rights.


Who am I?

I am a Caribbean-American literary scholar who has spent many years studying, lecturing and writing about the interrelated fields of African Diaspora literature and culture, meaning the creative and theoretical productions of writers from Africa, the United States, Latin America, Brazil, and the Caribbean. I teach a variety of these subjects and enjoy the combinations of politics, creativity, and cultural expression that they contribute. These books provide you with a good cross-section of what is available in the Caribbean and the Caribbean diaspora.


I wrote...

Caribbean Spaces: Escapes from Twilight Zone

By Carole Boyce Davies,

Book cover of Caribbean Spaces: Escapes from Twilight Zone

What is my book about?

Caribbean Spaces reaches, beyond island fragmentations, small spaces, and geographic separations, for a much wider, more expansive internationalized understanding of how we see and understand the Caribbean and its impact on world cultures. Caribbean Space now broadened, incorporates contexts that come out of dance and carnival “taking space” and challenges us to see the in-between spaces as not empty spaces occupied only by water. The expanding scientific meanings of space provide us with additional opportunities to think of this space as well beyond geographical limitations. Caribbean Space has always reached for international circulations of ideas, people, political movements, cultural practices (carnival, music, dance, food), and lifestyles of freedom and joy.

An African Slaving Port and the Atlantic World

By Mariana Candido,

Book cover of An African Slaving Port and the Atlantic World: Benguela and Its Hinterland

The Angolan southern town of Benguela was the third-largest port of embarkation of captives in the history of the transatlantic slave trade, after Luanda and Ouidah (in modern-day Benin). In spite of its importance as a slaving port, An African Slaving Port was the first English-language book on Benguela. In this book, Mariana P. Candido traces the history and development of the port from the seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century highlighting the connections between Benguela, Portugal, Brazil, and the Caribbean. The book contributes to the scholarship on the impact of the transatlantic slave trade on African societies looking at changes in consumption patterns, cultural elements, and institutions on the coast as well as in interior regions. Furthermore, the book contributes to engender the history of the slave trade from Angola by evidencing the role of local women merchants known as donas as independent traders and intermediaries between foreign traders and…


Who am I?

I am a professor of African history at the Royal Military College of Canada, where I teach courses on European colonialism and early and modern Africa. I earned a PhD in history from York University in Canada and spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto before joining RMC. My research interests include slavery, slave trade, legitimate commerce, and intercultural marriages in Luanda and its hinterland. I have published articles and book chapters and co-edited (with Paul E. Lovejoy) Slavery, Memory and Citizenship. My first book, Slave Trade and Abolition was published by the University of Wisconsin Press in January 2021.


I wrote...

Slave Trade and Abolition: Gender, Commerce, and Economic Transition in Luanda

By Vanessa Oliveira,

Book cover of Slave Trade and Abolition: Gender, Commerce, and Economic Transition in Luanda

What is my book about?

Well into the early nineteenth century, Luanda, the administrative capital of Portuguese Angola, was one of the most influential ports for the transatlantic slave trade. Between 1801 and 1850, it served as the point of embarkation for more than 535,000 enslaved Africans. In the history of this diverse, wealthy city, the gendered dynamics of the merchant community have frequently been overlooked.

Vanessa S. Oliveira traces how existing commercial networks adapted to changes operating in the South Atlantic during the nineteenth century. Slave Trade and Abolition reveals the strategies adopted by slavers in face of the ban on slave exports in 1836. Oliveira shows that large-scale merchants survived the end of the slave trade becoming the main investors in the "new" trade in tropical commodities, including ivory, wax, coffee, cotton and sugar.

An Intimate Economy

By Alexandra J. Finley,

Book cover of An Intimate Economy: Enslaved Women, Work, and America's Domestic Slave Trade

The domestic slave trade business was operated predominantly by white men, but the labor of Black women was critical to making it profitable. Here, Alexandra Finley recovers the stories of Black women who fed and clothed the enslaved in pens and jail, who kept the houses of slave traders, who were commodified for purposes of sexual slavery in the so-called fancy trade, and who sometimes even lived as the concubines and “wives” of traders. Putting enslaved women and their work at the center of the story yields an entirely new angle of vision on the trade.


Who am I?

I have taught history at the University of Alabama since the year 2000, and I have been working and writing as a historian of American slavery for more than twenty-five years. It is not an easy subject to spend time with, but it is also not a subject we can afford to turn away from because it makes us uncomfortable. Slavery may not be the only thing you need to understand about American history, but you cannot effectively understand American history without it. 


I wrote...

The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America

By Joshua D. Rothman,

Book cover of The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America

What is my book about?

The three men at the center of my book ran the largest and most important domestic slave trading firm in American history. By tracing the stories of their lives and careers, as well as those of some of the thousands of people they trafficked, I am also able to tell the broader story of the domestic slave trade itself. I explore the evolution over time of a cruel business that sat at the heart of American slavery, was central to American economic development, and made fortunes for its practitioners while devastating the lives of millions of enslaved people. While the domestic slave trade is something often imagined as a sideshow of American life before the Civil War, in fact it was everywhere. Its legacies remain to this day.

Sugar Money

By Jane Harris,

Book cover of Sugar Money

Another slavery narrative that doesn’t pull any punches. Set in Martinique 1765, it tells the tale of brothers Emile and Lucien, who are charged by their French master, Father Cleophas, with a mission. They must return to Grenada, the island they once called home, and smuggle back 42 slaves claimed by English invaders. A gruesomely compelling story.


Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by dark fiction since I discovered Edgar Allan Poe at the age of ten. I don’t know why I like to immerse myself in such troubling worlds, perhaps, by experiencing the worst of human nature vicariously, these texts give us the opportunity to really get to grips with who we are as people and what we are capable of. I’ve written eight works of fiction. Wuthering Heights has captivated me, and I've always been fascinated by the two mysterious holes in the narrative: where is Heathcliff from? And where does he go when he is missing for three years? I wrote a book, Ill Will, that attempts to answer these questions.


I wrote...

Ill Will

By Michael Stewart,

Book cover of Ill Will

What is my book about?

I am William Lee: brute; liar, and graveside thief. But you will know me by another name. 

Heathcliff has left Wuthering Heights, and is travelling across the moors to Liverpool in search of his past. Along the way, he saves Emily, the foul-mouthed daughter of a Highwayman, from a whipping, and the pair journey on together. Roaming from graveyard to graveyard, making a living from Emily’s apparent ability to commune with the dead, the pair lie, cheat and scheme their way across the North of England. And towards the terrible misdeeds – and untold riches – that will one day send Heathcliff home to Wuthering Heights.

Middle Passage

By Charles Johnson,

Book cover of Middle Passage

“Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I’ve come to learn, is women.” 

So starts this classic American novel, winner of the 1990 National Book Award, which tells the tale of Rutherford Calhoun, a loveable rogue and newly-emancipated slave in 1830s New Orleans. In an attempt to escape his matrimonially-minded girlfriend, he stows aboard the Republic and finds himself on a voyage to traffic captives from a legendary African tribe, the Allmuseri.

What follows is part adventure novel, part slavery narrative, part fable – and a disastrous sea voyage of epic proportions. But what can you expect when you kidnap and enslave a real-life African god?

Middle Passage is brutal and gruesome, featuring cannibalism, rape, murder, and pedophilia alongside the misery of human trafficking. (As Captain Ebenezer Falcon says: ‘There’s not a civilized law that holds water once you’ve put to sea.’) 

It’s almost…


Who am I?

I am a historical fiction writer living in a landlocked village in the Chilterns, UK. I became obsessed with long sea voyages while researching my debut novel, On Wilder Seas, which is inspired by the true story of Maria, the only woman aboard the Golden Hind during Francis Drake’s circumnavigation voyage in 1577-1580. I immersed myself in the literature of the sea, in early modern sailors’ accounts of their terrifying voyages, in their wills and diaries, in maps and sea-logs. A ship is the perfect setting for a novel: the confined space, the impossibility of escape, the ever-present danger – and the hostile, unforgiving sea is the ultimate antagonist.


I wrote...

On Wilder Seas: The Woman on the Golden Hind

By Nikki Marmery,

Book cover of On Wilder Seas: The Woman on the Golden Hind

What is my book about?

Inspired by a true story, this is the tale of one woman's uncharted voyage to freedom. April 1579. When two ships meet off the Pacific coast of New Spain, an enslaved woman seizes the chance to escape. But Maria has unwittingly joined Francis Drake's circumnavigation voyage as he sets sail on a secret detour into the far north. Sailing into the unknown on the Golden Hind, a lone woman among eighty men, Maria will be tested to the very limits of her endurance. It will take all her wits to survive - and courage to cut the ties that bind her to Drake to pursue her own journey. How far will Maria go to be truly free?

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