This is the ultimate book on the Atlantic slave trade. It details just about
everything that one can possibly desire to know about the origins and the
development of the Atlantic slave trades. The first chapters show how the
trade started almost by accident, largely driven by the sugar industry and
by the advanced capitalism of Italian merchants and bankers. Portugal became
the first main slave-trading power and remained such for as long as Portugal
was a world power. The foundations of the slave trade were laid during those
early centuries. Thomas provides a wealth of data that make you feel like you
live in Lisbon or Sevilla among the merchants who started trading slaves
from Africa and to the Americas. The book is less detailed for the last
century (the century on which Hollywood movies and USA school textbooks focus
most) but then it becomes clear that the core of the story has already been
told, and the rest is only an industrial-scale consequence of an idea that
was already two centuries old.
One hopes that Thomas will write a similar book for the other half of the African slave trade, and, in fact, the oldest and the one that lasted longest: the Muslim slave trade. Muslims started trading slaves with the African kingdoms six centuries before the Europeans and continued until very recently. It was a huge and sophisticated network that overlapped with the European one. It is a pity that books deal with either the European one or the Arab one, but never integrate the two. When Britain was shipping 100,000 black slaves a decade to the Americas, Morocco alone built an army of 150,000 black slaves. It is intriguing to speculate how an African trader (say, the king of one of the many wealthy African kingdoms) dealt with the parallel trades with the two slave-trading powers.