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The Slave Ship: A Human History

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The missing link in the chain of American slavery For three centuries slave ships carted millions of people from the coasts of Africa across the Atlantic to the Americas. Much is known of the slave trade and the American plantation system, but little of the ships that made it all possible. In The Slave Ship, award-winning historian Marcus Rediker draws on thirty years of r The missing link in the chain of American slavery For three centuries slave ships carted millions of people from the coasts of Africa across the Atlantic to the Americas. Much is known of the slave trade and the American plantation system, but little of the ships that made it all possible. In The Slave Ship, award-winning historian Marcus Rediker draws on thirty years of research in maritime archives to create an unprecedented history of these vessels and the human drama acted out on their rolling decks. He reconstructs in chilling detail the lives, deaths, and terrors of captains, sailors, and the enslaved aboard a “floating dungeon” trailed by sharks. From the young African kidnapped from his village and sold into slavery by a neighboring tribe to the would-be priest who takes a job as a sailor on a slave ship only to be horrified at the evil he sees to the captain who relishes having “a hell of my own,” Rediker illuminates the lives of people who were thought to have left no trace. This is a tale of tragedy and terror, but also an epic of resilience, survival, and the creation of something entirely new. Marcus Rediker restores the slave ship to its rightful place alongside the plantation as a formative institution of slavery, a place where a profound and still haunting history of race, class, and modern economy was made.


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The missing link in the chain of American slavery For three centuries slave ships carted millions of people from the coasts of Africa across the Atlantic to the Americas. Much is known of the slave trade and the American plantation system, but little of the ships that made it all possible. In The Slave Ship, award-winning historian Marcus Rediker draws on thirty years of r The missing link in the chain of American slavery For three centuries slave ships carted millions of people from the coasts of Africa across the Atlantic to the Americas. Much is known of the slave trade and the American plantation system, but little of the ships that made it all possible. In The Slave Ship, award-winning historian Marcus Rediker draws on thirty years of research in maritime archives to create an unprecedented history of these vessels and the human drama acted out on their rolling decks. He reconstructs in chilling detail the lives, deaths, and terrors of captains, sailors, and the enslaved aboard a “floating dungeon” trailed by sharks. From the young African kidnapped from his village and sold into slavery by a neighboring tribe to the would-be priest who takes a job as a sailor on a slave ship only to be horrified at the evil he sees to the captain who relishes having “a hell of my own,” Rediker illuminates the lives of people who were thought to have left no trace. This is a tale of tragedy and terror, but also an epic of resilience, survival, and the creation of something entirely new. Marcus Rediker restores the slave ship to its rightful place alongside the plantation as a formative institution of slavery, a place where a profound and still haunting history of race, class, and modern economy was made.

30 review for The Slave Ship: A Human History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jay Green

    The cover of my edition of Marcus Rediker’s The Slave Ship features a quote from the Sunday Telegraph describing it as “A truly magnificent book.” Such is my prejudice that I imagine Telegraph readers coming to Rediker's work not to be educated about the shaping of race and class in the Western hemisphere by the Atlantic slave trade but to bask in reminiscences about the source of their wealth or enjoy some tales of derring-do among the savages. An education is what they will receive, however, w The cover of my edition of Marcus Rediker’s The Slave Ship features a quote from the Sunday Telegraph describing it as “A truly magnificent book.” Such is my prejudice that I imagine Telegraph readers coming to Rediker's work not to be educated about the shaping of race and class in the Western hemisphere by the Atlantic slave trade but to bask in reminiscences about the source of their wealth or enjoy some tales of derring-do among the savages. An education is what they will receive, however, whether they like it or not. By now, the basics of the slave trade are well known, including its triangular pattern; ships starting in Bristol or Liverpool carried manufactured goods to Africa, which were traded for slaves, who were carried to the Americas and sold to work on the plantations, where the raw materials-cotton, tobacco, and sugar-were bought to undergo modification in the factories and mills of Lancashire, Birmingham, and elsewhere up North, for sale in, among other places, Africa. The slave trade was thus perfectly integrated into the other new markets generated by the Industrial Revolution. It was a business just like any other, a reality that tends to escape analyses of slavery that focus on the barbarity and captivity endured by the slaves to the neglect of the logic behind both. Not that there isn’t plenty of savagery and captivity to go around. The genius of Rediker’s book is that he has relied heavily on contemporary accounts of life on a slaver, from merchants, captains, sailors, and the slaves themselves. This lends a clarity, vividness, and depth to the story that, while not for the faint of heart, will leave readers in no doubt as to what went on and why. The answer to the big why, of course, is the pursuit of profit. The pursuit of profit explains pretty much everything. But what Rediker manages to tease out in his account are the nuances, the subtle tensions, the balancing act that capitalists have always had to perform, in order to extract labour from the exploited. Anyone who has worked in a factory will recognize, or at least understand, the wheedling, coercion, and incentivization of behaviour deployed by ships’ captains to get the most from their crew and human commodities, even if the cat o’ nine tails is no longer the instrument of choice. The journey from England to Africa typically saw the modification of the ship by skilled labourers-carpenters and smiths, for instance-who turned it in to a floating prison, a Guineaman, as the slave ships were universally referred to, before its arrival on the shores of such places as Benin, Congo, and Angola. In particular, this part of the journey saw the construction of the barricado, a barricade, a high, strong wooden barrier that stretched across the entire main deck of the ship and behind which the crew could retreat in the case of insurrection by the slaves; the barricado contained holes and a raised platform for the crew to fire their guns and cannon at the slaves, as well as a door that allowed only one person at a time to pass through. The barricado also turned the main deck into a kind of prison courtyard, so that when the slaves were allowed up onto the main deck for “dancing,” the crew could keep an eye on them and fire down on them if necessary. “Dancing” was, by and large, a euphemism for exercise. The slave merchant had no use for damaged goods, so it was important in terms of maximizing his profit that the slaves he sold in the Americas be fit for work. This necessitated some sort of “humane” treatment, so slaves were fed and watered, but at the same time, the captain had to ensure that fit, strong slaves were never in a position to revolt. “Dancing” thus took place in manacles and leg irons, with slaves supervised and motivated by crew members, under instruction to keep the slaves both healthy and acquiescent. This was a tall order, as you might imagine. Slaves understood the meaning of captivity, even if the technology was new to them, and would do everything in their power to escape or deprive the slaver of their labour. Suicide was common, either by hunger strike or leaping to the sharks that followed the Guineamen knowing there would be food. The ships were thus also equipped with netting around the sides of the decks to prevent such attempts-because the slaves believed that when they died their souls would return home, many drowned not just defiantly but happily-and with the speculum oris, an instrument used to force open the jaws of those recalcitrant slaves refusing to eat. The slave merchants knew there would be deaths on board their ships-cramming as many bodies as they could onto their ships was a recipe for epidemics-but death was always factored into the equation when gauging likely profits. Merchants had a good idea how many deaths to expect, providing mass suicides could be prevented, hence the expectation that the captain would nip any form of resistance, passive or otherwise, in the bud, pour encourager les autres. Class tensions asserted themselves, too, in the relationship between captain and crew. Few sailors appear to have wanted to sign up on Guineamen. The mortality rate was exceedingly high for crewmembers, the captains were notoriously barbaric, and the morality of slavery was naturally an issue. Many sailors signed up either to get out of prison or to avoid prison. Captains would scour the taverns of port cities with a couple of reliable mates, often family, in search of likely crew, who they’d attempt to get drunk and, with the connivance of a tavern owner in on the scam, draw into debts of such magnitude that they found themselves the next day with the options of either signing up or going to jail. This was no way for a captain to generate loyalty and devotion among his crew, but then he only required their obedience, not their love, and he relied upon the perception of a shared interest in survival once the slaves were on board to solicit the crewmembers’ allegiance. Rediker describes how captains’ personalities and attitudes slowly changed during the journey. Sweetness and light to the crew on the way to Africa, he would turn into a brute to slaves and crew alike once loaded and bound for the Americas. Crews did mutiny, but rarely in unison with slaves, and with a view to selling the slaves themselves on occasion. By and large, though, the captains and mates formed a cohesive group dedicated to realizing the profits at any cost, and so to the extent that they depended upon the crew to do this, the captains would do anything in their power to elicit compliance. A ratio of 8 or 10 slaves to every one crewmember was considered sufficient to meet all needs, including repression. However, once the ship had deposited its cargo in the Americas, many crew became surplus to requirements and would be travelling back to England with nothing to contribute to the bottom line; on the contrary, they constituted a cost insofar as their wages would be paid on arrival. Consequently, toward the end of the second stage of the voyage, just as the slaves were receiving improved treatment to ready them for market, the captains would try to alienate those crewmembers who would not be needed for the journey home, so that they’d jump ship in the Caribbean rather than face the final leg under the captain’s command. This persecution of the crew was deliberate and at the behest of the merchants, who sometimes gave explicit instructions to the captain that they dispose of superfluous crew, even though such a practice was illegal. Rediker tells us that the slave ports were crammed with these pitiful wretches, former crewmembers crippled by disease or unable for one reason or another to get passage home. Rediker demonstrates how the trade played a part in shaping not just the economic relations between Britain, Africa, and America, but also the social relations and the perceptions of race and class of those involved. Captains often tried to purchase slaves who would struggle in mutual comprehension. If they spoke many and different languages, it followed that they would less likely form a cohesive unit, find common ground, and revolt. A lack of common language made insurrection less likely. Nonetheless, the common experience of captivity transformed slaves, for both themselves and the crew, from being members of discrete, sometimes even antagonistic, African tribes, into "Negroes", pure and simple, and crewmembers into "White Men", regardless of the colour of their skin. Race relations were simplified, in effect, because of the universal experience of slavery. Slaves became brothers and sisters regardless of origin, by virtue of their shared experience. New bonds were formed in the face of necessity. Hardship produced co-operation. Slaves may well have found themselves in their predicament as a result of capture by other Africans, but on board ship every African became a brother or a sister. And for the plantation owners who received them, the slaves’ origins were of little consequence; they were a source of labour power and nothing else. The book closes with accounts of the insurrection by sailors in Liverpool in 1775, in which a thousand sailors wearing red ribbons and armed with muskets, blunderbusses, and cannons attempted to destroy the Mercantile Exchange, and of the role of the slave ship in mobilizing forces to ultimately abolish the trade in Britain. It isn’t part of Rediker’s remit to explore the social and economic factors that contributed to the demise of the slave trade in Britain, only to explain how the slave ship itself played a part in shaping the struggles of those who took part. He does so convincingly, engagingly, and perceptively. This is a book in the tradition of “history from below”, and I couldn’t help but compare it to Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch for the way it demystifies social relations and explains the interplay between class, race, gender, and empire. It isn’t really the kind of book you’re likely to buy as a gift, but it’s a compelling read, and you’ll be doing a really big favour for anyone you buy it for, even if it’s just yourself.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Like many other overwhelming catastrophes -- the Holocaust, AIDS, the persistence of poverty -- America's history as a slave-owning nation is so hard to look at and examine deeply that we often shy away from any serious consideration of it. But this is a book that could overcome that reluctance in many, because it paints a very human history of the British and American slave trade in Africa without resorting to polemic or a dry recitation of the facts. Marcus Rediker, a history professor at the Un Like many other overwhelming catastrophes -- the Holocaust, AIDS, the persistence of poverty -- America's history as a slave-owning nation is so hard to look at and examine deeply that we often shy away from any serious consideration of it. But this is a book that could overcome that reluctance in many, because it paints a very human history of the British and American slave trade in Africa without resorting to polemic or a dry recitation of the facts. Marcus Rediker, a history professor at the University of Pittsburgh, has decided to concentrate on the slave ship of the title, but in doing so, he really ends up exploring the five groups who were most involved in the ownership and operation of these ships -- slave merchants, captains and their officers, the seamen, the African slave traffickers, and the slaves themselves. Dr. Rediker makes a convincing case that the slave trade actually helped to create the very notion of "white people" and "black people." Before it emerged, most Africans knew each other as members of different tribes and kinship groups, with hundreds of separate languages, customs and home territories. In a similar way, the ordinary seamen of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were truly a motley crew, made up largely of sailors from the British isles and then the American colonies, but mixing in many other Europeans, some blacks and some Asians. Only when they were put in the position of having to serve as both sailors and jailers for a captured mass of Africans did they become a generalized group of "white men" and only then did the slaves become melded into "blacks." Using his intensive research into British Parliamentary records, ship logs, written memoirs and other sources, Dr. Rediker tells one achingly human story after another to portray what happened to the captured Africans from the time they were seized until they arrived at their destinations, how the sailors were mistreated and in turn mistreated the slaves, how brutal the ships' captains were and the economic and other motives that drove them to frequent use of whips, thumbscrews, and worse, and how most slave merchants worked hard to distance themselves from the pain and agony of their trade by categorizing the slaves as numbers in a ledger, or convincing themselves that they were actually introducing Africans to a better way of life. The story contains many surprises along the way. One is just how hard and how often slaves worked at freeing themselves, whether it was repeated insurrections on board to mass suicides. Another was the way that Africans often thrown together from many different tribes and territories formed intensely close bonds on the ships, and how the survivors would tell their children henceforth to call their shipmates "aunt" and "uncle" if they saw them in the future. And a third is the impact that one drawing had on the abolition of the slave trade in the early 1800s -- the careful schematic of The Brooke, showing the way it packed more than 400 slaves below decks. This is a chilling story and one that ought to raise serious and ongoing questions about how much America owes the people whose ancestors were brought to this nation in this way, and whose free labor enriched millions of other people and created fortunes that persist to this day. If you want to read one book that gives you a sense of the economics, sociology, anthropology and sheer human tragedy of the African slave trade, you could do no better than this.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Gamal Hennessy

    I’m developing a science fiction novel about slavery called Humanity’s Fall. The basic concept is Twelve Years a Slave meets Star Trek and follows the ordeal of one woman ripped from her brownstone in Brooklyn and thrust into the belly of a ship to be sold on the other side of the galaxy. The research for this book includes several sources exploring the impact of the Middle Passage including well-known works like Rootsand Amistad to more general books like The African Slave Trade and Still I Ris I’m developing a science fiction novel about slavery called Humanity’s Fall. The basic concept is Twelve Years a Slave meets Star Trek and follows the ordeal of one woman ripped from her brownstone in Brooklyn and thrust into the belly of a ship to be sold on the other side of the galaxy. The research for this book includes several sources exploring the impact of the Middle Passage including well-known works like Rootsand Amistad to more general books like The African Slave Trade and Still I Rise. But as I get ready to write the first draft of Humanity’s Fall, I think the book Slave Ship: A Human History by Marcus Rediker will have the most impact on my story. Slave Ship looks at the mechanism of African slavery; the ships and men who captured, bought, confined, tortured, killed and sold millions of people over the course of three centuries. It explores in depth the functioning of the ship, examining the vehicle of the Middle Passage from several viewpoints. The slave ship is seen as: - An investment for speculative European businessmen - A debt prison for unwary sailors - A marketplace for Africans selling slaves - A prison for Africans captured - A cemetery for slaves and crew killed in the journey - A factory for the creation of slaves - A battleground for slave inter slave conflict and collective rebellion - An incubator for the concept of race - A communal space for the creation of shared kinship - A symbol of evil for abolitionists Rediker breaks down the Middle Passage in stages, showing how ships were commissioned and purchased, how captains and crews were formed, the process of buying people, attempting to simultaneously break their spirit but keep their bodies intact for sale, the successful and unsuccessful attempts to escape, overthrow or commit suicide and the complex social relationships spending months on the ship would create. By drawing a historical and narrative thread from the people most distant from the process (who gained the most wealth) to the people most suffered the most intimate pain and lost the most,Slave Ship makes an argument for the ship itself to be one of the most influential and at the same time most ignored elements of social development in America. I read this book during the surge in media coverage over unarmed black men being killed in various parts of the country and the groundswell of racism playing out in various levels of society. In light of this reality and against the backdrop of building my own novel, I began to see parallels between our own time and the collective experience of the slave ship. It was easy to see the bankers and billionaires as the distant businessmen, too far removed from the process to have any interest in it beyond their profit. The police became the sailors and reluctant prison guards. The minority communities become the slaves and the incubator, factory, marketplace and communal space of the ship became the spaces we inhabit now, on and offline. The ship came to represent so much of the American experience, it became easy, perhaps clichéd, to imagine America as a slave ship we are all trapped on. Slave Shipwill have a lasting impact on me, not just for the inspiration it provides for my work, but in the way I perceive the world I live in. Have fun. Gamal

  4. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    It's a little hard to love a book whose main objective is to painstakingly detail the extent of human cruelty and terror in the slave trade, especially when those details are revealingly extensive. But this is a riveting historiography. What I suspected I'd get going in was a good ethnography of the experience of the enslaved. On this score, it did as well as could be hoped. What I hoped for was insight on the economics of the slave trade, and the book came through there too. But it's at its best It's a little hard to love a book whose main objective is to painstakingly detail the extent of human cruelty and terror in the slave trade, especially when those details are revealingly extensive. But this is a riveting historiography. What I suspected I'd get going in was a good ethnography of the experience of the enslaved. On this score, it did as well as could be hoped. What I hoped for was insight on the economics of the slave trade, and the book came through there too. But it's at its best in describing the fate of the common sailor, whose situation might even be as wretched as any other aspect of the trade. I was warned that this would be a "hard book to read". And it is. But not simply because of the lack of morality and humanity, the misery and sadism. What it really does is portray clearly how the system itself was by necessity one of terror. Underlying everything is a general implication of capitalism, or at least an unregulated capitalism. Merchants both in England and on the coast of Africa sought profits. Ship captains had to follow their own monetary incentives and enforce their own laws. And the fates of the sailors and slaves were almost by rule grim or fatal as a result. By the end of the book, words such as "terror" and "slaughterhouse" and "dungeon" seem understated. A great book. Although I may have to read something a little more cheerful now.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Grumpus

    This is based upon the audio download from [www.audible.com] Narrated by: David Drummond Wow! What a book! Everything you wanted to know about slave ships, the business of slavery, and more. This book detailed the whole sordid story of slavery as a business machine and its mass production of human cargo as a commodity. The perspective of everyone connected to the slave ship is detailed. There are stories from the captains, the merchants, the crew members, and the slaves themselves—all with their un This is based upon the audio download from [www.audible.com] Narrated by: David Drummond Wow! What a book! Everything you wanted to know about slave ships, the business of slavery, and more. This book detailed the whole sordid story of slavery as a business machine and its mass production of human cargo as a commodity. The perspective of everyone connected to the slave ship is detailed. There are stories from the captains, the merchants, the crew members, and the slaves themselves—all with their unique viewpoints of their situations. It was remarkable to learn of the resistance put up by the slaves. Many slaves continually fought their captivity by choosing to commit suicide through starvation or by throwing themselves overboard. As suicide resulted in a loss of profits, actions were taken to ensure the health of their “product”. Netting was set up around the ship to prevent slaves from jumping off the ship and those refusing to eat were gruesomely force fed. Insurrection occurred on 1 in 10 ships and resulted in torture and murder of those responsible. Discipline as a deterrent was frequent aboard the slave ships. Man’s inhumanity toward man in these cases were stomach churning. Death among slaves and crew were common and simply viewed as collateral damage. The images of bodies (either dead, as suicide, or as a form of torture) being thrown overboard still haunts me. As the remoras attach themselves to the sharks, the sharks attach themselves to the slave ships and instantly devour anything that falls into the water. The thought of that form of death still gives me the chills. There was a quote in the book from William Wilberforce (an English social reformer and abolitionist) that sums it all up for me, “So much misery condensed in so little room is more than the human imagination has ever before conceived.” This was my first experience with this reader and I have to say I was very impressed. Many readers have the strangest inflections that always take some time to get used to. David Drummond’s reading of the book was clear, mellifluous and pleasant. Both the content and the narration make this a worthy listen (or read).

  6. 5 out of 5

    Dora

    This was a very painful read. While we all know the slave ship/middle passage was a horror, this book really goes into excruciating detail like you couldn't possibly imagine. Something that makes it pretty readable is that the author tells stories of particular people- people who kept journals, so you follow along the experience from all different perspectives- the sailors, the captains, those who were deeply involved in the purchase/sale, and the slaves themselves. There's also some really grea This was a very painful read. While we all know the slave ship/middle passage was a horror, this book really goes into excruciating detail like you couldn't possibly imagine. Something that makes it pretty readable is that the author tells stories of particular people- people who kept journals, so you follow along the experience from all different perspectives- the sailors, the captains, those who were deeply involved in the purchase/sale, and the slaves themselves. There's also some really great historical analysis. Something that stands out in my mind is how all those involved in the slave trade, through their diaries and opinion pieces they wrote, they all felt they had some christian/moral justification for it, or at least told themselves that. It's common knowledge that high-ranking tribal members in West Africa profited from slaving and sold their own people, and those involved in the slave trade used this as justification for what they were doing (i.e. "we're saving them from themselves"). I was really impressed with the level of detail this author went into in analyzing why/how that happened from the other side, understanding the tribal relationships-- it's not quite as simple as "these heartless savage people sold their own". Ultimately this book demonstrates that racial identity/boundaries in the US & Carribean was essentially invented during the middle passage, and this book describes in detail the complex storm of social/economic/just plain horrific factors that established race. It was a really amazing, but difficult, read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    Marcus Rediker is very quick to place the blame for the international slave trade on Europeans. He discusses with brutal detail the devastation caused by the slave trade -- whether on the lives of the Africans, the captains, the sailors, merchants, the insurers. What he merely touches upon is that the slave trade happened because of the complicity of the African tribal leaders and merchants. If the Africans did not promote slavery for their own greed and or tribal revenge, would the Black slave Marcus Rediker is very quick to place the blame for the international slave trade on Europeans. He discusses with brutal detail the devastation caused by the slave trade -- whether on the lives of the Africans, the captains, the sailors, merchants, the insurers. What he merely touches upon is that the slave trade happened because of the complicity of the African tribal leaders and merchants. If the Africans did not promote slavery for their own greed and or tribal revenge, would the Black slave trade have existed to the degree in which it did? I would love to read a book that focuses on what the Africans did to promote and sustain slavery. Rediker recognizes the power of the abolitionist movement. He also realizes that many white Europeans didn't care about the humanity of African slaves. They did care about the harsh treatment of young white sailors. Is it possible that the anti-slavery movement in England would not have succeeded if the harsh daily life of a sailor on a slave ship was not part of the entire abolitionist propaganda story? Rediker proposes that the slave ship was the first real capitalist enterprise. This profit-making corporation made the captain, sailors, traders, and the slaves less than human. I found the fact that slave ships could stay in a port in Africa for months before the captain got enough slaves to make the trip worth the cargo. During this time of gathering the cargo, sailors would die of starvation and disease or escape the ship.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Hulser

    Full of intriguing detail of ship mechanics and voyage logistics, Rediker has crafted an extraordinary account of the technology that underpinned the trade in humans. His vignettes of first person experiences as merchant, Captain, Mate, trader, sailor and jailor are terrifying in their matter-of-fact acceptance of the daily horror. For instance, who knew that ships built up their rails, so as to hang nets to thwart suicidal captives from jumping overboard? Sometimes the profits were so enticing, Full of intriguing detail of ship mechanics and voyage logistics, Rediker has crafted an extraordinary account of the technology that underpinned the trade in humans. His vignettes of first person experiences as merchant, Captain, Mate, trader, sailor and jailor are terrifying in their matter-of-fact acceptance of the daily horror. For instance, who knew that ships built up their rails, so as to hang nets to thwart suicidal captives from jumping overboard? Sometimes the profits were so enticing, sloops that could carry only 30 captives made the voyage. At times, it seems like the slave trade was a kind of gold rush, luring would-be capitalists over the moral line, as surely as they crossed the Tropic of Cancer.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Xavier

    In my attempt to fill the many gaps of my U.S. history education, I decided to start with the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. I did read a book about the founding of Jamestown, the first settlement by Europeans in North America and have yet to read about the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock but given the current social and political climate of America (CRT, BLM movement, and book banning for example), I thought I would start with The Slave Ship: A Human History. Rediker presents a biography of the s In my attempt to fill the many gaps of my U.S. history education, I decided to start with the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. I did read a book about the founding of Jamestown, the first settlement by Europeans in North America and have yet to read about the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock but given the current social and political climate of America (CRT, BLM movement, and book banning for example), I thought I would start with The Slave Ship: A Human History. Rediker presents a biography of the slave ship and their inhabitants using primary sources, like letters of correspondence or journal entries, from captains, sailors, and the slaves that survived the voyage and managed to write about it (like Olaudah Equiano). He describes the layout of the ships, writing in detail the fetid conditions of the lower decks where the enslaved were kept in chains. The main deck had what was called a barricado, a high wall lined with spikes and fitted with swivel guns, designed to suppress rebellions. Nets were also fitted on the sides as to prevent people from jumping overboard. The perspectives of the slaves, sailors, and captains that sailed on these horrible and perilous voyages paint a grim picture. A good majority of the enslaved had been kidnapped and sold into slavery, as prisoners of war or as punishment for being unable to pay off debt. African slavers would transport men, women and children to the coast to barter with the Europeans. Many accounts speak of families being forcibly separated at the slave markets, inducing much pain and suffering not only on the physical level but mentally as well. The whole endeavor was miserable for all on board, and captains and sailors were not immune. Seamen were often beaten and flogged by cruel captains or even by their fellow shipmates. Many of them owed a debt to the captain and were forced to work. Starvation, sickness and disease were also common. Even captains could be murdered by mutinous sailors, laid down by disease or killed in a slave rebellion. No one was safe. The stories within these pages were grim, a macabre series of terrible accounts. Many days I would stop at the end of a chapter and bury my face in my hands, shocked for the absolute horror these peoples must’ve endured. If you were lucky to survive the trip (or unlucky?), then you were put up for sale in the slave market and sentenced to a life of toil and misery, until you died. I recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of slavery. It gave a voice to those who were on these ships. It taught me that every enslaved was an individual, with their own language, culture, dreams, family. They had a name, and these are lost to us; but at least their stories live on.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Malu

    This book was very thoroughly researched. This is the first book I've read focusing solely on the transportation part of the transatlantic slave trade and it was fascinating (and horrifying) to read about the way all the parts of the industry (merchants, ship captains, sailors, African traders) came together to create this terrible system. Although there weren't many (or any) written first-hand accounts by African women, I liked that the author made an effort to include their perspective, especi This book was very thoroughly researched. This is the first book I've read focusing solely on the transportation part of the transatlantic slave trade and it was fascinating (and horrifying) to read about the way all the parts of the industry (merchants, ship captains, sailors, African traders) came together to create this terrible system. Although there weren't many (or any) written first-hand accounts by African women, I liked that the author made an effort to include their perspective, especially at the beginning and end of the book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Spicy T AKA Mr. Tea

    What a goddamned amazing and horrifying book to read. Right off the bat, Rediker has us in a canoe with enslaved Africans traveling toward one of the waiting European many-masted sea-worthy vessels, also called a "Guineaman." Guineaman because, Guinea was an old-school piece of British coin, and the West African coast being called the Guinea Coast--among other horribly derogative terms--was extremely lucrative to white merchants who dealt in human commodities. Rediker's book looks primarily at th What a goddamned amazing and horrifying book to read. Right off the bat, Rediker has us in a canoe with enslaved Africans traveling toward one of the waiting European many-masted sea-worthy vessels, also called a "Guineaman." Guineaman because, Guinea was an old-school piece of British coin, and the West African coast being called the Guinea Coast--among other horribly derogative terms--was extremely lucrative to white merchants who dealt in human commodities. Rediker's book looks primarily at the British and America piece of this, with a ghastly and incredibly researched focus on the slave ship itself. And he doesn't start from the point where the Africans are already enslaved. He looked at the kingdoms that profiteered off the sale of their countrymen and women (even as they didn't probably understand the horror they were condemning other Africans to) as well as everyday Africans who were rounded up, sometimes whole villages taken by force, and sold directly into the slave trade, thus building globalized labor. This was the start of global capitalism. There's so much in this book. Rediker looks at the life on board a slave ship from multiple perspectives--the enslaved Africans, the sailors, and the captains. Something I had not heard of before was that merchants, in order to get more profit, would work out details with captains where they would treat their sailors horribly during the Middle Passage. Once in port, these sailors were usually in horrible condition with injuries, sickness, and mostly dehydration and starvation. In some cases, as these ships sailed across the Atlantic, whole crews would die off. Before that happened, the captain would order the enslaved Africans out of the hold to learn how to sail by the very sailors that would be left on the docks or die during the Middle Passage. Captains would sometimes come down hard on some sailors bullying and brutalizing them. Once in port, they might not want to return with home with the captain and would forfeit their shares of pay. Thus more for the merchant and the captain. Obviously, insurrection was always a possibility, and so captain and crew had to be mindful of the enslaved. When insurrections happened and were not successful, ringleaders were horribly tortured before being fed to sharks that swam with the slave ships across the ocean. In cases where the insurrection was successful, the captain and crew might be fed to sharks or locked away, and if the Africans were able to pick up sailing, commandeer the boat and head back home or find a safe community. Some became pirates. In other cases, if no one knew how to sail, the ship would be adrift slowly killing the victors with dehydration and starvation. Unfuckingreal. Rediker humanized Africans before they were enslaved and that was key. In my history classes in elementary school, we were never taught about the resistance nor that "slaves" were self-determining people with their own lives before they were brutally and maliciously taken in the night and enslaved. One last amazing thing about this book, but I could go on, is that during the Middle Passage, enslaved Africans became "black" and the crew and captain became "white" even though the people on a slave ship might be from all over West Africa and not even speak the same language and sailors might be black and white. These "race" distinctions were apart of the dehumanizing process for the Africans. However, Rediker tells us that while the enslaved Africans lost their kin and tribal affiliations, new ways of communication and resistance were born. And that legacy continues through today. Fascinating, gripping, heart breaking, stomach turning, anger inducing, but an incredible history of resistance, rebellion, and insurrection. A must MUST read for every single person out there. Now I need to catch up with the other two books he published since this came out.... Read Rediker. Please.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Simon Wood

    THE HUMAN FACTOR IN AN INHUMAN TRADE The Slave Ship itself is the focus of Marcus Redikers well written and thoughtful book on the British and American slave trade of the 18th Century: the ships themselves, the people who owned them, their captains, officers and ordinary sailors aswell as the enslaved Africans. The picture that the book paints is detailed and vivid covering everything from the construction of the Slave ships, to their manning, the voyage out from Britain loaded with trade goods, THE HUMAN FACTOR IN AN INHUMAN TRADE The Slave Ship itself is the focus of Marcus Redikers well written and thoughtful book on the British and American slave trade of the 18th Century: the ships themselves, the people who owned them, their captains, officers and ordinary sailors aswell as the enslaved Africans. The picture that the book paints is detailed and vivid covering everything from the construction of the Slave ships, to their manning, the voyage out from Britain loaded with trade goods, the time spent off Africa buying up slaves and the middle passage to the West Indies and mainland America. Rediker captures the experiences of all those involved from a variety of sources (ships logs, autobiography, the anti-slavery societies, testomony to parliament). The experiences of the enslaved Africans whose journey often started deep within the continent, to capture and sale by their fellow Africans, collaborators in the noxious trade. Their experience on the ships, the brutality of the disciplinary regime and frequent resistance to enslavement are illuminated in countless examples that Rediker generalises into persistant themes. The ordinary sailors lot is put across well, from how they were recruited, their treatment at the hands of the ships captain and his officers, the effect the various stages of the trade had on them, and the risks they faced. Once the cargo of slaves was eventually sold in the Americas and the ships loaded with commodities for the final leg of the journey back to Britain a proportion of the crew seem to have been regarded as surplus, the high manning levels that were required for a cargo of slaves were no longer necessary. They frequently seem to have been left in the Americas, no longer needed and very seldom paid: an earlier ages flexible labour market. An interesting and readable book that writes of the slave trade from a different perspective, there are no tables of slaves shipped, imports or exports - many other books already cover that important angle of the trade - only the human experience of the countless people who participated in the slave trade and those who were themselves the commodities of that trade. Rediker describes this experience in general terms, but it is the anecdotal accounts that give the general experience a vivid presence.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lacey

    Rediker is thorough in his account of the business of buying people; from shore to shore he gives the reader a vivid idea of the horrors so many endured. Painstakingly researched, carefully and compassionately he details a subject still very sensitive to most. I appreciated his inclusion of ship plans, clarifying the different slaver sizes, and discussing more than just "lots of people died." Death, as Rediker makes clear, was considered the better outcome by many aboard a slave ship. The manner Rediker is thorough in his account of the business of buying people; from shore to shore he gives the reader a vivid idea of the horrors so many endured. Painstakingly researched, carefully and compassionately he details a subject still very sensitive to most. I appreciated his inclusion of ship plans, clarifying the different slaver sizes, and discussing more than just "lots of people died." Death, as Rediker makes clear, was considered the better outcome by many aboard a slave ship. The manner in which the people died, however is typically glossed over in other slave histories, and I think Rediker did a fine delicate job painting such a grim picture. The editing, although exquisite, at times seemed choppy. For example, a concept was introduced only to be defined and discussed several chapters later. It is as if, in some places, these concepts were originally introduced or discussed at earlier or later stages in the book but portions of the discussion were subsequently moved to places more suitable for the narrative or creative emphasis. The author briefly touches on "Atlantic capitalism," and although Rediker makes no overt condemnation of capitalism, one can't help but to suspect that there might be disdain for capitalism--how the very basis of capitalism is "profits before people." While this book clearly defines the slave trade as a shameful part of our collective history, it also obliquely raises questions about the morality of free capitalism. The Slave Ship also sheds contextual light on the historical and ongoing strife in tribal African countries, and on how slave history influences present-day Black American culture. To put it plainly, Rediker's account connects the dots. The Slave Ship makes you think; if you aren't prepared to think then maybe this isn't the book for you after all.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Taylor

    Amazing work of scholarship on the slave ship as essentially the "shop floor" of Atlantic capitalism. In many ways, this develops in deep, human detail a theme from C.L.R. James, Robin Blackburn and others, which positions slavery as central to the historical emergence of a capitalist Western hemisphere -- rather than an unfortunate exception to a linear progressivist historical template. Also recognizably Jamesian is the insistence on the primacy of the resistance and creative insurgency of wor Amazing work of scholarship on the slave ship as essentially the "shop floor" of Atlantic capitalism. In many ways, this develops in deep, human detail a theme from C.L.R. James, Robin Blackburn and others, which positions slavery as central to the historical emergence of a capitalist Western hemisphere -- rather than an unfortunate exception to a linear progressivist historical template. Also recognizably Jamesian is the insistence on the primacy of the resistance and creative insurgency of workers, slave and free, to exploitation and bondage. The expansion of the "shipmate" concept into a root-formation of resistant Afro-diasporic culture and politics transforms an otherwise horrifying chronicle into something paradoxically optimistic, and militantly liberatory. My one quibble might be the long chapter of extensive citation from Equiano's narrative. I'm not sure how universal the assignment of this text as undergraduate reading is elsewhere, but given how deeply invested the curricula of my own formal education were in reading and re-reading this particular text, it did feel a bit like rehearsal of the known in the midst of a book that had so much else to reveal. But that's certainly a very minor objection to raise, and one that's linked more to idiosyncrasies of my own reading than anything else. Trying to imagine myself as a reader encountering Equiano's text for the first time in this book's context, I'd hazard a guess that it would be a pretty profoundly revelatory experience. (And one which would go some distance toward countering the usual de-politicized readings of that narrative that seem to dominate in undergraduate lit classes).

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    I'm always ambivalent about Rediker's books. I find his scholarship fantastic and the insights in his books useful, thought provoking, and important. His source material is wide and encompasses all kinds of official records, published accounts, dairies, letters, and shipping diagrams. He clearly understands the "wooden world." In this case, he traces how the specter of the slave ship impacted African communities, the ship captains and sailors, the men and women pressed into slavery, and the abol I'm always ambivalent about Rediker's books. I find his scholarship fantastic and the insights in his books useful, thought provoking, and important. His source material is wide and encompasses all kinds of official records, published accounts, dairies, letters, and shipping diagrams. He clearly understands the "wooden world." In this case, he traces how the specter of the slave ship impacted African communities, the ship captains and sailors, the men and women pressed into slavery, and the abolitionist "reading public." Rather than talk about the trade in the abstract, focusing on the slave ship as the point where all these things met allow him to emphasize the (in)human dimension of the slave trade. However, the style he adopts often irritates me. He chose to write a what he calls a "human history," a blend of historical ethnography, first-person accounts, and his own scholarship. While this technique is great for capturing some of the emotional aspects of the slave trade, it obscures the core of his arguments behind lengthy first person accounts or the stories of individuals. I particularly find the kind of quasi-novelistic language frustrating-- it read as (needlessly) speculative.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Robert Owen

    I liked this book more the further I read into it. In “The Slave Ship”, Marcus Rediker undertakes a thoroughgoing examination of all aspects, both human and material, social and political, of the instruments of the “Middle Passage” that in thousands of voyages across the Atlantic ferried over 12.3 million human beings from freedom to slavery in the Western Hemisphere. Rediker is very methodical in his approach, selecting one or the other elements of inquiry, examining it in detail and then, movi I liked this book more the further I read into it. In “The Slave Ship”, Marcus Rediker undertakes a thoroughgoing examination of all aspects, both human and material, social and political, of the instruments of the “Middle Passage” that in thousands of voyages across the Atlantic ferried over 12.3 million human beings from freedom to slavery in the Western Hemisphere. Rediker is very methodical in his approach, selecting one or the other elements of inquiry, examining it in detail and then, moving on to the next. The result is gradual buildup of understanding that is built one powerful, illuminating and sickening element at a time. The beginning, I found, was a little tedious, but as he moved on through successive chapters the massive edifice of human enterprise and concomitant misery that was the trans-Atlantic slave trade slowly comes into focus. What I particularly liked about his treatment was the manner in which he brought to life the dehumanizing quality of the slave trade for all of those who came into actual contact with it; from the African enslavers and coastal traders, the slave ship captains and officers, the crew and, of course, the slaves themselves. They were each, in their own ways, compelled by mission, need or circumstances to adapt to the horrific environment that slave voyages necessarily produced. For the captains, responsible to merchants underwriting the trip and held accountable for the trips economic success, the imperatives of profit and a need for absolute order under all circumstances compelled a degree of human cruelty, both towards slaves and crew alike, that is simply impossible to fathom. For the crew, men of the “meaner sort” whose labor and poverty were pitilessly exploited, the voyages were a day to day struggle with despair, misery and the need – or the release – of cruelty towards their African prisoners. For the slaves, ripped for profit from their homes and families along the coastal regions of West Africa, the slave ship was a machine that converted free men and women into units of production for the plantation economy of the Western Hemisphere – the place where they learned the depths of dehumanized cruelty into which circumstance had submerged them, formed bonds of community and “racial” kinship and experimented with and perfected the almost infinite arsenal of means of resistance they would carry with them into slave life. By contrast, far removed from the day to day horrors of the business itself, the merchants who underwrote and financed the trade had, for the most part, little or no interest in or understanding of the horrific human toll that made their profits (and losses) possible. For them, it was all numbers on a ledger and gold stuffed in the mattress. As I read, I was reminded dimly of modern day investment bankers who, for an optimized return, dispose of entire industries and the workforces they facilitate with the same obtuse and entitled abandon as the merchant capitalists who financed and so, made possible the slave trade. By the end, the picture Rediker so painstakingly paints is vivid and compelling. It is a worthy and necessary read and contributed significantly to my understanding of America’s racial history.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lora Innes

    This was a good book if for no other reason then it addresses a seldom talked about aspect of history. The author approached the slave ship from the perspective of the captains, the crew, the merchants, the slaves, and abolitionists. He told lots and lots of stories, which brought their experiences to life, and took all of his stories (seemingly) from first hand accounts. I can not put into words, though, why I didn't love this book. It could have been as simple as his writing style didn't have This was a good book if for no other reason then it addresses a seldom talked about aspect of history. The author approached the slave ship from the perspective of the captains, the crew, the merchants, the slaves, and abolitionists. He told lots and lots of stories, which brought their experiences to life, and took all of his stories (seemingly) from first hand accounts. I can not put into words, though, why I didn't love this book. It could have been as simple as his writing style didn't have much imagination. It could also have been that I thought the narrator on the audio book was dry, as I listened to this one. I thought that his conclusion, where he attempted to rally modern readers into taking action to redress the wounds of the slave trade was weak and inconclusive. He didn't really come up with a tangible solution, and praised the steps that the US and Britain had taken so far, but for what we should do beyond that, just told a story of African slaves caring for their one time guards and said we should take their example. I wasn't exactly sure what he meant by that, besides be kind to each other and forgive? It felt like a weak attempt to get political without being able to offer a real solution, and I thought it detracted from the rest of the book. Aside from the epilogue, it was a fantastic learning experience and my hat is off to him for writing it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tim Boroughs

    This is an excellent book. The author Marcus Rediker is a well recognised scholar working in the area of maritime history who has produced a clear, coherent and engaging examination of the role of the slave ship in the slave trade covering the years 1700 to 1808. Rediker emphasises the role of the slave ship as a transformative vehicle which took on board millions of multiethnic people from Africa and through the application of brutal technologies and the application of a rigid hierarchical syst This is an excellent book. The author Marcus Rediker is a well recognised scholar working in the area of maritime history who has produced a clear, coherent and engaging examination of the role of the slave ship in the slave trade covering the years 1700 to 1808. Rediker emphasises the role of the slave ship as a transformative vehicle which took on board millions of multiethnic people from Africa and through the application of brutal technologies and the application of a rigid hierarchical system encompassing both violence and mental subjugation created a mass of "black slaves" who became the labour for expanding colonial economies. Of particular note is his emphasis on detailing the lives of individuals in this drama such as an adult female slave who is drowned by lowering her into the sea on a chair by a slaver captain who subsequently laments the loss of a fine chair. The result is a compelling narrative that exposes the regularised and ordered horrors of the slave trade that leaves a lingering contempt for the way in which capitalism sets aside questions of morality when the opportunity to make vast profits lures investors from both sides of the Atlantic like so many sharks to blood in the water.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    Not a cohesive continuous story, but hundreds of unrelated short descriptions of the lives of sailors, slaves, merchants, captains, and the ships involved in the slave trade. Well researched, but one quickly gets the idea from the multiple examples that this was a shameful era. While clearly there was a common theme throughout the book, not having a common character or continuous story line failed to hold my interest.

  20. 4 out of 5

    zzzz

    Great book, I have one petty complaint tho. When introducing a new primary source, say, the diary of a ship surgeon, Rediker has a tendency to ~set the scene~ like so: It was 4:35 am in the Liverpool harbor and as the surgeon Alexander Britishname and the captain Rich Capitalist walked down the street, a random drunken sailor approached them and said "come at me bro." Just tell us what your primary source is and proceed, my dude. Great book, I have one petty complaint tho. When introducing a new primary source, say, the diary of a ship surgeon, Rediker has a tendency to ~set the scene~ like so: It was 4:35 am in the Liverpool harbor and as the surgeon Alexander Britishname and the captain Rich Capitalist walked down the street, a random drunken sailor approached them and said "come at me bro." Just tell us what your primary source is and proceed, my dude.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    I actually listened to this book as an audio, so my experience may be warped. I found this to be quite a good review of the history and experience of people involved in slave transportation from the early 1700s to the early 1800s. The gruesome and wretched experience of the slaves, the sailors, and the middle ranks are all detailed (using primary accounts when possible). The stories of the captains, paying travellers (there was one!), and the investors are also here. The financial incentives to I actually listened to this book as an audio, so my experience may be warped. I found this to be quite a good review of the history and experience of people involved in slave transportation from the early 1700s to the early 1800s. The gruesome and wretched experience of the slaves, the sailors, and the middle ranks are all detailed (using primary accounts when possible). The stories of the captains, paying travellers (there was one!), and the investors are also here. The financial incentives to become involved in the slave trade are detailed, as are the tremendous hazards. Do not imagine it isn't awful; it is. Sections detailing the captains' and middle ranks' "creative" punishments for misbehavior are appalling and stomach-turning. Day to day life was appalling and stomach-turning. But I had read and loved "King Leopold's Ghost," about the Belgian king's exploitations of the Congolese, and this is a good companion to that. A few remarkable points: 12 million people were sold into slavery to these slave ships. Only 10 million made it alive to the New World. The mortality for a sailor was about 1 in 4 chance of dying per year served. The crowding was so extreme that when the captain (on one ship) hung his hammock in his cabin to go to bed, then all the girl children slaves (20? 40?) came in to sleep on the floor (the boy children slaves were all sleeping on the floor in the first mate's quarters). The slaves were constantly attempting to mutiny, and everyone was in danger all the time. Putting the sailors on "short rations," which happened frequently, meant inadequate water for hydration. I didn't get to see any of the ship diagrams, but otherwise had no complaint with the audio format: the author tends to reiterate himself, keeping me on the track of the larger story and reminding me about the more immediate items frequently. One shortcoming of this book was that the triumphs of the anti-slavery movement don't get as much drama and play at the end as I was anticipating. The book just works its way up to the early 1800s and then come to a close. Overall a good look at a shocking and horrifying chapter in the history of humanity.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kristi Thielen

    I began this book with trepidation, as perhaps most of its readers do; the subject is so horrific and so grim I wasn't sure I wanted to know more about it. I found instead, that the book is skillfully written and covers a variety of topics within this subject area, including information about the building of ships in the slave trade, the ports at which the traders docked and did business in and the kinds of crew that worked on these ships. There was also interesting information about the coastal I began this book with trepidation, as perhaps most of its readers do; the subject is so horrific and so grim I wasn't sure I wanted to know more about it. I found instead, that the book is skillfully written and covers a variety of topics within this subject area, including information about the building of ships in the slave trade, the ports at which the traders docked and did business in and the kinds of crew that worked on these ships. There was also interesting information about the coastal African peoples who were a link in the chain of Africans who captured fellow Africans, usually in the interior of the country, they transported them to the coast for sale to (usually) white Europeans. Rediker doesn't dwell overmuch on the perverse irony and obvious immorality of this action; anyone literate enough to be reading this book can supply that for themselves. Two things stood out in the story of the slave trade: first and unsurprisingly, the vileness of the business either attracted odious people or made them become so by association: crooked ship owners, sadistic sea captains and sailors who were abused, often to the point of death, were not uncommon things in a trade that "decent" people profited from but rarely investigated. Secondly: there are a number of inspirational moment in the book, as the author details the occasions when shackled men and women rose up to overthrow a crew, or take over a ship or heroically fight a pitched battle that (in at least one case) freed them so they could return to Africa. There are not as many of these stories as you would wish . . but there are some. And they are wonderful. It is also remarkable to learn how quickly humans learn to adapt, even in the most horrible of circumstances. We have all heard about the African-American culture which slaves created in the new world. Who would have guessed that some of this new culture was being created, only weeks after African people had been captured, and were still at sea? Do not be afraid to read this book! It is excellent!

  23. 5 out of 5

    VJ

    This book is extremely difficult to read. It is emotionally wrenching, yet compelling. Still, I have to take a break from it because it is too much to take in rapidly. I find the information about the ship itself to be fascinating. The ship is the central character in this story, fulfilling the promise of the title. Partially finished, but had to put it down for a long while. I don't know when I will finish this book. It is very difficult to read. Never finished reading this book. Too depressing a This book is extremely difficult to read. It is emotionally wrenching, yet compelling. Still, I have to take a break from it because it is too much to take in rapidly. I find the information about the ship itself to be fascinating. The ship is the central character in this story, fulfilling the promise of the title. Partially finished, but had to put it down for a long while. I don't know when I will finish this book. It is very difficult to read. Never finished reading this book. Too depressing and too heavy to digest, though there is an awful lot of information about ships.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Andee Nero

    This is probably my least favorite Marcus Rediker book. A little too floral for me. Sometimes I read his sentences and thought to myself, "What does *that* even mean?" Using weird metaphors doesn't make something human. I would have preferred something a little more no-nonsense that would've gotten the same point across. The vignettes were also a little overused. This is probably my least favorite Marcus Rediker book. A little too floral for me. Sometimes I read his sentences and thought to myself, "What does *that* even mean?" Using weird metaphors doesn't make something human. I would have preferred something a little more no-nonsense that would've gotten the same point across. The vignettes were also a little overused.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nicko

    A terror-filled floating hell on Earth. Well-researched and brings the horror of this human institution to life.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Peggy

    This is superb historical writing— with detailed contemporary accounts, the author builds a multi-dimensional picture of the slave ship & the people involved. Sailors, captains and enslaved people are all here, just about jumping off the page in vivid stories of life & death. Difficulty reading, yes— but so very worthwhile and well done.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bethany

    A remarkably readable (though emotionally difficult) overview of the 18th century Atlantic slave trade from the perspective of the ships and the people on them. It’s very accessible for readers who don’t know much about history. The whole book is tragedy, and super frustrating to read, but the author does a great job synthesizing a lot of sources to clearly and humanely describe it all.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Wow this is really vital history. Showing what life was like on the ships from a class perspective. He also shows how race was invented at least partly on these ships and because of them. The rich stories are amazing. Read this book immediately.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nate

    Marcus Rediker describes his most recent book as “[a]n ethnography of the slave ship.” (12.) The book can be hard to read, emotionally speaking. Rediker suggests that this should be the case, if historians are to avoid what he calls the occlusion of “pervasive torture and terror” through overly quantitative approaches or other narratives which do not foreground the sheer horror of it all. In Rediker’s case, the result is a book which was “a painful book to write” and, Rediker hopes, “a painful b Marcus Rediker describes his most recent book as “[a]n ethnography of the slave ship.” (12.) The book can be hard to read, emotionally speaking. Rediker suggests that this should be the case, if historians are to avoid what he calls the occlusion of “pervasive torture and terror” through overly quantitative approaches or other narratives which do not foreground the sheer horror of it all. In Rediker’s case, the result is a book which was “a painful book to write” and, Rediker hopes, “a painful book to read,” in the attempt to pierce the “violence of abstraction” which he sees as having “plagued the study of slavery from its beginning.” (12-13.) Among the subject this book addresses is the role of slavery in making the global capitalist economy. For Rediker “the European deep-sea sailing ship (…) was the historic vessel for the emergence of capitalism, a new and unprecedented social and economic system that remade large parts of the world beginning in the late sixteenth century.” (41.) Ships were “central to a profound, interrelated set of economic changes essential to the rise of capitalism: the seizure of new lands, the expropriation of millions of people and their redeployment in growing market-oriented sectors of the economy; the mining of gold and silver, the cultivating of tobacco and sugar; the concomitant rise of long-distance commerce; and finally a planned accumulation of wealth and capital beyond anything the world had ever witnessed. Slowly, fitfully, unevenly, but with undoubted power, a world market and an international capitalist system emerged. Each phase of the process, from exploration to settlement to production to trade and the construction of a new economic order, required massive fleets of ships and their capacity to transport both expropriated laborers and the new commodities.” Slave ships were thus a particularly important type of ship. “The slave ship was a linchpin of a rapidly growing Atlantic system of capital and labor. It linked workers free, unfree, and everywhere in between, in capitalist and noncapitalist societies on several continents.” (348.) The slave ship’s importance “was bound up with the other foundational institution of modern slavery, the plantation, a form of economic organization that began in the medieval Mediterranean, spread to the eastern Atlantic islands, and emerged in revolutionary form in the New World”. Rediker adds that “[t]he spread of sugar production in the 1650s unleashed a monstrous hunger for labor power” which drove the slave trade. (43.) Rediker argues that “the slave ship was a strange and potent combination of war machine, mobile prison, and factory.” (9.) It was a factory which labored upon human bodies - and relied on its prison-ness to so - as slave ships produced slaves, “doubling their economic value as [the slavers] moved them from a market on the eastern Atlantic to one on the west and helping to create the labor power that animated a growing world economy in the eighteenth century and after. (…) War-making, imprisonment, and the factory production of labor power and race all depended on violence.” (9-10.) The ship was a “workplace, where merchant capitalists assembled and enclosed large numbers of propertyless workers and used foremen (captains and mates) to organize, indeed synchronize their cooperation. The sailors employed mechanical equipment in concert, under harsh discipline and close supervision, all in exchange for a money wage earned in an international labor market (…) sailors not only worked in a global market, they produce for it, helping to create the commodity called “slave” to be sold in American plantation societies. The slave ship was also a mobile, seagoing prison at a time when the modern prison had not yet been established on land. This truth was expressed in various ays at the time, not least because incarceration (in barracoons, fortresses, jails) was crucial to the slave trade. (…) Liverpool sailors frequently noted that when they were sent to jail by tavern keepers for debt and from there bailed out by ship captains who paid their bills and took their labor, they simply exchanged one prison for another. And if the slave ship seemed a prison to a sailor, imagine how it seemed to slave locked belowdecks for sixteen hours a day and more.” (44-45.) Someone I know once remarked that the “silent compulsion of the market” that Marx talks about is the product of terror, and the habituation of workers to respond with relative silence is too. Rediker makes a similar point. “The ship itslf was in many respects a diabolical machine, one big tool of torture.” (348.) “The slave ship had not only delivered millions of people to slavery, it had prepared them for it,” producing “subjection to the discipline of enslavement. Captives experienced (…) the use of violence to hold together a social order in which they outnumbered their captors by ten to one or more.” (350.) “Violence and terrors were central to the very formation of the Atlantic economy and its multiple labor systems in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.” (354.)

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    For me, the primary value of this book was in contemplating, as the author states in the introduction, "horrors which have always been, and remain, central to the making of global capitalism." How can we fight against them? Participants in the slave trade were prone to think of the Africans as cannibals while thinking of themselves as ethical civilized redeemers and good Christians. How do we deceive ourselves today? I was reminded that life has taken me to several locations related to the histor For me, the primary value of this book was in contemplating, as the author states in the introduction, "horrors which have always been, and remain, central to the making of global capitalism." How can we fight against them? Participants in the slave trade were prone to think of the Africans as cannibals while thinking of themselves as ethical civilized redeemers and good Christians. How do we deceive ourselves today? I was reminded that life has taken me to several locations related to the history of the slave trade, among them Charleston and Barbados (not to mention the Cape Verde Islands and St. Peter Paul Rocks). Charleston served as a distribution point for the entire lower South, with more than half of the slaves imported into the US going through there. Barbados, the epicenter of the historic sugar revolution and crown jewel of the British colonial system, was thus the most fully realized- and therefore most brutal- slave societies to be found anywhere in the world. What locations - both physical and virtual, are at the center of evils rising from capitalism today? There's a lot of repetition in the pages of THE SLAVE SHIP, most likely because it was purposely written to be a book of which any section could be referenced without having read what comes before or after. Hence, if you are reading the whole thing straight through (as I did), and are not a good speed reader (as I am not), you may spend a lot more time digesting this book than you anticipated. Early chapters deal with subjects such as "The Evolution of the Slave Ship", and "African Paths to the Middle Passage" and recount primary source materials from the perspectives of various participants, both willing and unwilling. Latter chapters share the story of the Slave Ship from more general perspectives of all the different roles: merchants, captains, sailors, and slaves. With regard to the chapter "The Captain's Own Hell", the captain's power depended first and foremost on a connection to capitalists. With regard to "The Sailors' Vast Machine", sailors were on the whole among the poorest of the poor-- "refuse and dregs" of society. They were a "thoughtless set of men" who cared for today and not tomorrow, more than willing to undertake dangerous journeys for an early paycheck in hand.Yet they looked out for one another, buying goods of departed seamen paying considerably more than any given item was worth to help surviving family members. Captains were notorious for getting rid of extra crew before completing their voyage--leaving behind a pathetic human landscape of broken-down sailors in West Indies ports. Therefore common sailors would learn to assert a power of their own from below to oppose the concentrated power of the captain. A particularly interesting tale to me in this section recounts the sailors' insurrection in Liverpool, from which we get the word "strike" in our language today: sailors "struck" or took down the sails of vessels. Moving away from the vantage point of sailors, we then look at life aboard the slave ship from the perspective of the human cargo themselves. "From Captives to Shipmates" describes the dehumanizing stripping of culture from above and an oppositional process of creation of culture coming from below, "the alchemy of chains mutating, under the hard pressure of resistance, into bonds of community. " Finally, "The Long Voyage of the Slave Ship Brooks" offers insights into activism. The creation of the Brook's image was part of a larger strategy to educate, agitate, and activate people anywhere the slave trade went on. It called on citizens to stand forth and throw light on the subject, that is, the dark lower deck of the Brooks and other slave ships, by putting forth relevant information. The declared goal was to be objective- to present facts about a slave ship that could not be disputed by those involved in it. In conclusion, read this book all the way through, as I did, or reference particular chapters which have special interest for you. You won't be disappointed either way. It reads much better than some books written by historians. Just be prepared to sit down and slowly reflect on the material.

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