The best books about the Middle Passage 📚

Browse the best books on the Middle Passage as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Middle Passage

Middle Passage

By Charles Johnson

Why this book?

“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…

From the list:

The best books about historical sea voyages

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Book cover of Africa's Discovery of Europe, 1450-1850

Africa's Discovery of Europe, 1450-1850

By David Northup

Why this book?

Northup provocatively challenges our perceptions of the early modern world. By offering a relativist view and investigating the primary sources written by Africans themselves the Africans of the early modern period. They reveal much about sixteenth and seventeenth-century Europe, as well as African civilizations.     

From the list:

The best history books about everyone and for everyone

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Book cover of The Middle Passage: White Ships / Black Cargo

The Middle Passage: White Ships / Black Cargo

By Tom Feelings

Why this book?

This stunning book was published in 1995, but it is still one of my favorites. Tom Feelings’ black and white illustrations are haunting and powerful. It wordlessly tells and shows the story of the tortuous journey of the slaves brought from Africa to the Americas. Words are not needed with images this powerful.

From the list:

The best award-winning and brilliantly illustrated children’s books on African American history

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

Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora

By Stephanie E. Smallwood

Why this book?

Relying primarily on Royal African Company records, Smallwood reconstructs the forced migration and enslavement of approximately 300,000 African men, women, and children who were transported in English ships from the Gold Coast (modern-day Ghana) to the Americas between 1675 and 1725. She traces their dehumanizing journey from captivity in European forts on the West African coast through commodification at sea to sale in slave markets in the Caribbean and North America.

Through careful analysis of quantitative data, Smallwood tracks the processes of commodification that underwrote the transatlantic slave trade while simultaneously foregrounding the human experience of captivity and migration. This…

From the list:

The best books on Britain and Atlantic slavery

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Book cover of The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Mid-Life

The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Mid-Life

By James Hollis

Why this book?

This is the best book ever written about the midlife crisis. Although only 117 pages long, it is dense with meaning, and multiple readings are necessary to truly get the most out of it. Hollis is a Zurich-trained Jungian analyst whose thought is permeated by Jung’s theories. His writing is very beautiful and often literary. He draws from psychology, poetry, art, his own practical experience, and much more. Hollis elucidates the difference between a job and a vocation, explains the relationship between fear and growth, shows how solitude differs from loneliness, and above all, gives us the best map to…

From the list:

The best books to guide you through your midlife crisis

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

Slave Ship Sailors and Their Captive Cargoes, 1730-1807

By Emma Christopher

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…

From the list:

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

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