The Slave Ship: A Human History

Written by Marcus Rediker
Review by Mike Ashworth

Countless thousands of words have been written about the slave trade and the industries built upon its products. In The Slave Ship, historian Marcus Rediker focuses on the so-called “golden age” of the slave trade when more than six million people were transported out of Africa to New World plantations. He looks at the trade from the point of view of the ships and the individuals who were involved; not only the captains of the ships, but also the unfortunate men and women who were enslaved. Mr Rediker paints a vivid and disturbing picture of the life of brutal discipline and fierce resistance on these “floating dungeons” which were trailed by sharks. He tells the stories of individuals such as John Newton and Olaudah Equiano, as well as the collective experiences of captains, sailors and slaves. Based on thirty years of research in maritime archives, this is a remarkable, disturbing book which made me both angry and depressed. Its power lies in the subtly understated way it is written which seems to heighten the horror and injustice which were the hallmarks of the slave trade. Recommended.