The most recommended books on the transatlantic slave trade

Who picked these books? Meet our 29 experts.

29 authors created a book list connected to the transatlantic slave trade, and here are their favorite transatlantic slave trade books.
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Book cover of The Atlantic Slave Trade from West Central Africa, 1780-1867

Vanessa Oliveira Author Of Slave Trade and Abolition: Gender, Commerce, and Economic Transition in Luanda

From my list on the slave trade from Angola.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

Vanessa's book list on the slave trade from Angola

Vanessa Oliveira Why did Vanessa love this book?

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.

By Daniel B. Domingues da Silva,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Atlantic Slave Trade from West Central Africa, 1780-1867 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Atlantic Slave Trade from West Central Africa, 1780-1867 traces the inland origins of slaves leaving West Central Africa at the peak period of the transatlantic slave trade. Drawing on archival sources from Angola, Brazil, England, and Portugal, Daniel B. Domingues da Silva explores not only the origins of the slaves forced into the trade but also the commodities for which they were exchanged and their methods of enslavement. Further, the book examines the evolution of the trade over time, its organization, the demographic profile of the population transported, the enslavers' motivations to participate in this activity, and the Africans'…


Book cover of Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World

David Livingstone Smith Author Of On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It

From my list on inhumanity.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been studying dehumanization, and its relationship to racism, genocide, slavery, and other atrocities, for more than a decade. I am the author of three books on dehumanization, one of which was awarded the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf award for non-fiction, an award that is reserved for books that make an outstanding contribution to understanding racism and human diversity. My work on dehumanization is widely covered in the national and international media, and I often give presentations at academic and non-academic venues, including one at the 2012 G20 economic summit where I spoke on dehumanization and mass violence.

David's book list on inhumanity

David Livingstone Smith Why did David love this book?

Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner David Brion Davis was an unequaled scholar of American slavery, and this is one of his most important works. It describes in galvanizing detail the full arc of North American slavery, the emergence of African American culture, the evolution of anti-Black racism, and the abolitionist movement. It is unique in explicitly focusing on White people’s dehumanization of enslaved Africans.

By David Brion Davis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Inhuman Bondage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

David Brion Davis has long been recognized as the leading authority on slavery in the Western World. His books have won every major history award-including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award-and he has been universally praised for his prodigious research, his brilliant analytical skill, and his rich and powerful prose. Now, in Inhuman Bondage , Davis sums up a lifetime of insight in what Stanley L. Engerman calls "a monumental and magisterial book, the
essential work on New World slavery for several decades to come." Davis begins with the dramatic Amistad case, which vividly highlights the international character…


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

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

From my list on the Transatlantic slave trade for serious scholars.

Why am I passionate about this?

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

Manu's book list on the Transatlantic slave trade for serious scholars

Manu Herbstein Why did Manu love 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.

By Katia M. de Queiros Mattoso,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To Be a Slave in Brazil as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The book has the great advantage of placing the slave in the center of the history not simply as a type of labor, but as an actor whose culture, actions and decisions influenced the operation of the system... written with verve and grace for a general readership.


Book cover of Homegoing

Monica McCollough Author Of Songs of Lost Things: Sonata for the Sun

From Monica's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Visual artist Designer History lover Old-school hip-hop bibliophile Foodie

Monica's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Monica McCollough Why did Monica love this book?

This is my second read of Homegoing, and I’m always mesmerized by its imagery and ability to get me vested in characters that I know will have fleeting moments in such a vast narrative.

I consider this story a modern masterpiece in its conquering of a narrative that spans two hundred years and in its attention to detail. Gyasi’s ability to “show” through expressive descriptions and omniscient situational awareness offered such emotion for me. I think this level of placing the reader “there” would be very difficult for most authors with so many characters and alternating POVs.

It also gave me even more historical lessons regarding the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and made those familial connections between Africa and the United States, specifically, more palpable.

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 Liberia & the Quest for Freedom

Faith and Martin Sternstein Author Of Ten African-American Presidents

From my list on the history of Liberia, America’s stepchild.

Why are we passionate about this?

Faith “Zanweah” Sternstein grew up in Tappita, Nimba County, Liberia. Her heritage and cultural background is that of the Dan (Gio) ethnic group, where her lineage comes directly through Chiefs Tarpeh, Snagon, and Vonleh. She met her future husband, Martin Sternstein, when he served as Fulbright Professor at the University of Liberia. While much has been written about Liberia, there has been little serious research into the lives of the early presidents, and we much enjoyed filling in this gap. We subscribe to the African proverb: Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

Faith's book list on the history of Liberia, America’s stepchild

Faith and Martin Sternstein Why did Faith love this book?

C. Patrick Burrowes is a renowned Liberian historian with whom we enjoyed many discussions on the campus of the University of Liberia. He has written extensively.

This book delves into pre-colonial, post-colonial, and present-day Liberia as he analyzes both the trans-Atlantic and Mideast slave trade, the quest for freedom, and the difficult road to Liberian statehood. The 1920s Fernando Po slavery scandal led to the resignation of President King and almost to the end of Liberia as a free country.

According to Burrowes, this past history continues to traumatize Liberia and can be linked to atrocities committed during the 1980s and 1990s.

By C Patrick Burrowes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Liberia & the Quest for Freedom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Africa's past and present are deeply influenced by the capture and selling of millions of its people over several centuries. To a greater extent, that is true for Liberia, a country to which blacks from the Americas returned. Liberia’s recent civil war, the trans-Atlantic slave trade inflicted pains, traumas and losses that cannot be ignored out of existence. Driven beneath the surface, they corrode our conscience and erode our humanity. By pretending they did not happen, we destroy our ability to tell right from wrong, victims from villains. Echoes of the slavery era can be heard in the derogatory names…


Book cover of A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution

Ana Lucia Araujo Author Of The Gift: How Objects of Prestige Shaped the Atlantic Slave Trade and Colonialism

From my list on the material culture of the Atlantic slave trade and colonialism.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a historian of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade who was trained with a PhD in History and a PhD in Art History, and who's interested in how slavery is memorialized in the public space as well as in the visual and material culture of slavery. I was born and raised in Brazil, the country where the largest number of enslaved Africans were introduced in the era of the Atlantic slave trade and that still today is the country with the largest Black population after Nigeria, the most populous African country. I believe that studying the history of the Atlantic slave trade and slavery helps us to remedy the legacies of anti-Black racism today.

Ana's book list on the material culture of the Atlantic slave trade and colonialism

Ana Lucia Araujo Why did Ana love this book?

Toby Green’s book is a magisterial history of West Africa and West Central Africa during the era of the Atlantic slave trade.

Exploring a large array of sources from three continents the book tells the history of African societies such as the kingdoms of Kongo and Dahomey, by showing how Africa was connected to the rest of the world earlier before Europeans reached the Atlantic coasts of the continent.

With the rise of the Atlantic slave trade Africa exported currencies such as gold, whose great value persisted over time, but kept importing cloth, cowries, iron, and copper, whose value decreased over time.

The book helps us to understand the roots of the inequalities among Africa and the Global North and shows us that these unbalanced economic and diplomatic exchanges were tied to cultural, religious, and artistic dimensions, in which material culture also played a central role.

By Toby Green,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Fistful of Shells as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

By the time the "Scramble for Africa" among European colonial powers began in the late nineteenth century, Africa had already been globally connected for centuries. Its gold had fueled the economies of Europe and the Islamic world for nearly a millennium, and the sophisticated kingdoms spanning its west coast had traded with Europeans since the fifteenth century. Until at least 1650, this was a trade of equals, using a variety of currencies-most importantly, cowrie shells imported from the Maldives and nzimbu shells imported from Brazil. But, as the slave trade grew, African kingdoms began to lose prominence in the growing…


Book cover of Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route

Susan K. Harris Author Of Mark Twain, the World, and Me: Following the Equator, Then and Now

From my list on blending memoir, travel, and history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always enjoyed books that introduce me to faraway places, cultural narratives, and the writers behind the stories. After retiring from college teaching, I decided to write one myself. I’m a Mark Twain scholar, so I followed Twain’s lecture tour through Australasia, India, and South Africa. One of my goals was to expose my research methods to my readers, and writing in the first person made that easy. What I hadn’t foreseen was how much the process would force me to confront my own past—exposing the radical differences between Mark Twain and Me. 

Susan's book list on blending memoir, travel, and history

Susan K. Harris Why did Susan love this book?

Lose Your Mother is the story of Hartman’s investigation into the African side of the slave trade, an effort to understand the past as prelude to the present. Heading to Ghana, from which thousands of captive Africans were shipped into slavery in the Americas, Hartman spends a year immersing herself in Ghanian life and culture, or at least as much of it as she can access as an American. What she learns is as much about herself as about history, and what we learn is about how people construe local histories in order to understand their own place in the world.

By Saidiya V. Hartman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lose Your Mother as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Lose Your Mother, Saidiya Hartman journeys along a slave route in Ghana, following the trail of captives from the hinterland to the Atlantic coast. She retraces the history of the Atlantic slave trade from the fifteenth to the twentieth century and reckons with the blank slate of her own genealogy.

There were no survivors of Hartman's lineage, nor far-flung relatives in Ghana of whom she had come in search. She traveled to Ghana in search of strangers. The most universal definition of the slave is a stranger—torn from kin and country. To lose your mother is to suffer the…


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

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

From my list on the Transatlantic slave trade for serious scholars.

Why am I passionate about this?

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

Manu's book list on the Transatlantic slave trade for serious scholars

Manu Herbstein Why did Manu love 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.

By Joseph K. Adjaye,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Elmina, 'The Little Europe' as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This 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 orally-derived sources. It is also richly informed by the writer’s own personal knowledge as a Nyampa Safohen and citizen of Elmina. Despite the tremendous changes engendered by the European contact, Elmina’s historical development demonstrates an amazing degree of cultural…


Book cover of Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800

Eric Nellis Author Of Shaping the New World: African Slavery in the Americas, 1500-1888

From my list on African slavery in the Americas.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

Eric's book list on African slavery in the Americas

Eric Nellis Why did Eric love this book?

An invaluable scholarly source for understanding the Atlantic slave system at its source.  Among the book’s virtues are details of the cultures and politics in the area of European penetration and African slavery itself and the African participation in the European trade. This book should be recognized with the extensive literature on the Atlantic slave trade for its acknowledgment of the great range of African languages and cultures that ended up in Brazil, the Caribbean, and North America.

By John Thornton,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book explores Africa's involvement in the Atlantic world from the fifteenth century to the eighteenth century. It focuses especially on the causes and consequences of the slave trade, in Africa, in Europe, and in the New World. African institutions, political events, and economic structures shaped Africa's voluntary involvement in the Atlantic arena before 1680. Africa's economic and military strength gave African elites the capacity to determine how trade with Europe developed. Thornton examines the dynamics of colonization which made slaves so necessary to European colonizers, and he explains why African slaves were placed in roles of central significance. Estate…


Book cover of Gorée: Point of Departure

Curdella Forbes Author Of A Tall History of Sugar

From my list on genre-busting love and other improbable things.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born in a Jamaican far-district just before independence. That historical fact is only one aspect of my in-between childhood. My daily imaginative fare was European fairy tales; my mother’s stories of growing up; and folktales, rife with plantation monsters, that my grand-uncle told. There was no distance between life and those tales: our life was mythic. The district people were poor. So they understood inexactitudes profoundly enough to put two and two together and make five. They worshipped integrity, and church was central. Inevitably, genre-crossing, “impossible” realities, and the many ways love interrupts history, were set in my imagination by the time I was seven and knew I would write.

Curdella's book list on genre-busting love and other improbable things

Curdella Forbes Why did Curdella love this book?

For me, growing up in the Caribbean, books that don’t separate between the “naturalistic” world and so-called “other” worlds, always ring uniquely true. Gorée is a transnational story set in Castries, St. Lucia, New York City, USA, Dakar, Senegal, and London, England. It’s the story of a family whose great losses parallel the loss of Africa's children through the transatlantic slave trade and the difficult, if not impossible, return of those stolen away. The novel’s love and loss stories are all in some way are filtered through the door of no return on Gorée Island in Senegal. The stories are not told in the physical realm only and do not only rely on physical portals. Barry's loves and lovers must return to the past and make the journey in spirit too.

By Angela Barry,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A contemporary portrait of estrangement, this novel explores the African diaspora and the encounters made by people of African descent as they journey from New York to London, St. Lucia, and Senegal. Traveling to Africa to meet her ex-husband’s new family, Magdalene and her daughter Khadi are brought face-to-face with the perils of forgotten pasts—both social and cultural. And when Khadi's trip to the slave port of Goree takes an unfavorable turn, certain divisions in global culture become evident, making this a powerful investigation into the continuing repercussions of the slave trade.