The best books on the transatlantic slave trade 📚

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

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

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

By John Thornton

Why 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.

From the list:

The best books on African slavery in the Americas

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Book cover of Africans: The History of a Continent

Africans: The History of a Continent

By John Iliffe

Why this book?

There are thousands of histories of Africa, but only this one ties together environment, economy, demography, and society. In just 300 pages Iliffe presents Africa’s history from the birth of humankind to the mid-1990s. His history of Africa is the story of hardship and social adjustment in which population numbers are not just the result of variable, though mostly unfavourable, environmental situations, but a tool of survival and progress. This social adjustability, different as it may be from European patterns, allowed the continent’s people to build one of the greatest civilisations on earth. It carried them through natural disasters, invasions,…

From the list:

The best books to understand “what is wrong” with Africa – and what is right

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Book cover of Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Why this book?

Coates’ memoir, written in the form of a letter to his 14-year-old son, was his response to the 2000 death of his former Howard University classmate, killed by an undercover police officer in a case of mistaken identity. Coates grounds this story in deep research that explores the presumption of Black criminality woven through our history – in laws against aiding fugitive slaves, in slave codes that made it a crime to learn to read, in white terrorism that disenfranchised black people. I’ve admired Coates since I discovered his 2014 Atlantic article, “The Case for Reparations.” His message is devastating.…

From the list:

The best books that explain America’s systemic racism

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Book cover of Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness

Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness

By Simone Browne

Why this book?

This revelatory set of essays insists on the long, intertwined histories of anti-blackness and surveillance stretching all the way from the Atlantic slave trade to the present. Browne’s wide-ranging cases—from the plan of a slave ship, to the use of brands, passes, and lantern laws to monitor enslaved people, to post-9/11 security checks at airports—unearth the foundational role of racism in driving systems of identification and documentation intended to regulate those “out of place.” After reading Dark Matters, it is impossible to see surveillance technologies, whether centuries-old or brand new, as separable from the policing of black bodies and…

From the list:

The best books on identity documents in the modern world

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Book cover of Black Saints in Early Modern Global Catholicism

Black Saints in Early Modern Global Catholicism

By Erin Kathleen Rowe

Why this book?

This brand-new, prize-winning book is a gorgeous synthesis of some of the most important trends in current Iberian studies. Early modern empire-building, missionary efforts, and the African slave trade fostered a new cult of black saints, which Rowe documents through stunning photography from tiny and forgotten churches across the peninsula. In focusing on black saints and their devotees—a largely understudied part of early modern Catholic culture—Rowe not only centers and elevates the diverse and often marginalized individuals who shaped global Catholicism, but also emphasizes important conversations about race and inclusion in early modern society.

From the list:

The best books about Spain’s golden age

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Book cover of Enslaving Spirits: The Portuguese-Brazilian Alcohol Trade at Luanda and Its Hinterland, C. 1550-1830

Enslaving Spirits: The Portuguese-Brazilian Alcohol Trade at Luanda and Its Hinterland, C. 1550-1830

By José C. Curto

Why this book?

In Enslaving Spirits José C. Curto relies on the Atlantic history approach to demonstrate how alcohol linked Europe, Africa, and the Americas. The book looks at the role of foreign alcoholic beverages in the slave trade from Luanda and its hinterland between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries. The author follows the trajectory of Portuguese wine and the Brazilian alcohol known as geribita in the acquisition of captives to meet the demand for enslaved labor in the Americas. The reader will also learn a great deal about indigenous alcoholic beverages, as well as how the introduction of foreign intoxicants changed…

From the list:

The best books to read if you want to know more about the slave trade from Angola

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