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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Horrific Account of a Horrific Business
Marcus Rediker subtitles "The Slave Ship" as "A Human History", and that is an accurate description of its focus and method -- and its strengths and most evident weakness. The book has as its primary focus British and American slave ships of the 18th century (when the transAtlantic slave trade was at its height and before it was outlawed), and how it shaped and warped...
Published on December 29, 2007 by Bruce Trinque

versus
1.0 out of 5 stars Turned off from reading the introduction.
I have not read the book and do not intend to after reading the sample, the introduction. Putting a Black man in the beginning as the slave trader immediately puts the thought in the readers mind that Africans sold Africans. This has been the argument that has been brought up to justify whites involvement in the slave trade. Simply put, if Africans were the major...
Published 15 days ago by Amazon Customer


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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Horrific Account of a Horrific Business, December 29, 2007
By 
Bruce Trinque (Amston, CT United States) - See all my reviews
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Marcus Rediker subtitles "The Slave Ship" as "A Human History", and that is an accurate description of its focus and method -- and its strengths and most evident weakness. The book has as its primary focus British and American slave ships of the 18th century (when the transAtlantic slave trade was at its height and before it was outlawed), and how it shaped and warped those who sailed, voluntarily or involuntarily, aboard those vessels. Redicker constructs his history by drawing upon first-hand accounts, mostly written by seamen and ships' captains, but also some from merchants and even a few slaves. He presents the horrific details of the psychological, social, and cultural impact of such a horrific business. It is said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Then, slave ships certainly proved -- especially perhaps to their captains -- an enormously corrupting activity. Even those who considered themselves as humane and compassionate people were inevitably stained and warped by the experience. But for all of Rediker's obvious (and sometimes perhaps too obvious) horror at what happened, I think the book could have been even stronger and better if the author had provided more numbers and statistics to help quantify the enormity of the events; he makes passing references to studies of the numbers of Africans enslaved and the number who died in the process, but nowhere are these figures clearly presented for an overall portrait.

The book makes for unsettling reading, with murder, rape, and casual brutality leaping off nearly every page (and, as Redicker demonstrates, the brutality was not confined to use against the slaves alone, but also the crews). One aspect that I had never encountered before was that not infrequently slaves being transported from Africa across the Atlantic were pressed into service to supplement the crew in sailing the ship and even fighting off enemy privateers and often (this reminded me of tales from Holocaust death camps) they acted as "trustees" to keep other slaves in line.

Fans of the recent movie "Amazing Grace" will be interested to see that several historical characters from that film make appearances in the pages of this book, including Captain John Newton, Thomas Clarkson, and Olaudah Equiano.
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59 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fasinating epic........................., October 13, 2007
The slave ship gives a fascinating forte in the archives of slavery and the making of modern history. It was a vehicle, transporting captives whose labor was necessary for America's economic survival; it was a factory, where African men, women, and children were transformed into "cargo"; and it was an instrument of war, complete with fearsome weapons with the capability to destroy any who might challenge its gruesome mission. In Marcus Rediker's book it explores these historical uses of the slave ship by drawing on an astonishing array of archival material, revealing the voices of slaves, common sailors, pirates, captains, and traders in all their complex humanity. Rediker's talent as a writer and a historian is to bring this kind of disparate information into one solid, available and enthralling narrative.
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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for the Americas, February 5, 2008
I saw the review of this book in the WSJ and decided this was worth reading. As an African who comes from one of the major regions where slaves were taken, it was indeed a difficult read; I sometimes had to put it aside and reflect on what my people went through before, during, and after the passage. The material in this book does not just cover the history of the slaves taken to the Americas, but also the sailors and, especially, Africans themselves. I would implore my fellow Africans to read this book because it shows an essential part of our history that rarely gets the deserved attention. And it is only by knowing that history that we can move forward. Rediker does an impressive job showing why the stories of the slave ship should never be forgotten.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving account of a vile trade, April 30, 2008
By 
William Podmore (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Marcus Rediker, of Pittsburgh University's History Department, has written a brilliant account of the machine that enabled history's largest forced migration. Exploration, settlement, production and trade all required massive fleets of ships. The slave ships, with names like Liberty, Free Love and Delight, transported both the expropriated labourers and the new commodities that they produced. The ships were weapons, factories and prisons too.

These ships were the key to an entire phase of capitalist expansion. Between the late 15th century and the late 19th century, it is estimated that they transported 10.6 million people, of whom 1.5 million died in the first year of slavery. 1.8 million had died en route to Africa's coast, and 1.8 million died on the ships. So the trade killed more than five million people.

The 18th century was the worst century, in which seven million people were transported, three million of them in British and US ships, from Liverpool, Bristol and London. Seven million slaves were bought in Britain's sugar islands, for toil in the plantations.

For half the 18th century, Britain was at war with France or Spain, for markets and empire. The slaver merchant capitalists gained from it all. They hired the captains and the captains hired the sailors. The conflict between these two forces was the primary contradiction on board, until the ships reached the African coast, then all united against the slaves. The captains exercised the discipline of exemplary violence against slaves and sailors. Their cruelty and terror were not individual quirks but were built in to `the general cruelty of the system'.

Rediker studies the conflicts, cooperation and culture of the enslaved. He shows how the enslaved Africans were the primary, and first, abolitionists, supported by dissident sailors and antislavery activists like Thomas Clarkson.

The book renders the sheer horror of the experiences that this vile trade inflicted on people. Rediker concludes, "we must remember that such horrors have always been, and remain, central to the making of global capitalism." The British Empire, so romanticised by Brown, Blair and a horde of self-publicising sycophants, was built on this murderous trade.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Horror Factory, March 4, 2011
By 
M. Edwards (Tainan, Taiwan) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Slave Ship: A Human History (Paperback)
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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Title should read: "The Slave Ship - An Inhumane History", June 3, 2008
It is hard to find a person not being aware of horrific slave trade years taking place between Africa and North America. And of course I had thought of having quite sufficient knowledge about this subject until I finished reading "The Slave Ship". I will not try to repeat what earlier reviewers posted. But I have to state again (like in many of my other reviews), that dark and unimaginable human nature presents itself in full spectrum, painted with details, sadness and vivid colors by the author. I disagree with the former reviewer: book is very well arranged and composed. And excuse my sarcasm: if you think that being a "wage slave" in some kind of corporation is a terrible fate...please consider sailors on board of the slave ship, where they were exploited and worked to death, their life not much different and valued than purchased and kept in chains slaves. Colonialism and slave trade: two dark attributes to wealth of many individuals and/in developed countries and capitalism in general. Picture of Henry Laurens (in the middle of the book)describes him: "..He used capital accumulated in the slave trade to rise to the highest levels of South Carolina society and politics. He became president of the Congress in 1777"; Saying this I have to stay objective. Slavery was not unknown to natives in Africa. Had they first managed to arrive in America with ships and guns, trade would be the same with only one difference: white and North American Indians would be locked below the decks and sailing to Africa. We are all the same. What an eye opening work Mr. Rediker !! It will be hard for me to forget your book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!, December 29, 2011
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An excellent and scholarly work. Provides not just cold, hard facts, but makes clear the human stories of suffering. 12 million people were stolen from the homes and families, carried acorss the Atlantic in the most horrible conditions, and then forced to work without any hope. No hope for personal gain, for a family, for freedom, for any choice. No hope. Imagine yourself in these conditions...how would you fare?
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An expose of the first water, September 1, 2008
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An excellent and quick reading book that provides a much needed "holistic" detailed examination of the slave trade from the African Traders/Sellers to the Western European Merchants/ Buyers and Sellers to the New World Buyers in America and the Caribbean. This exploitive and colorblind practice was (and still is) from beginning to end degrading to all parties (Merchants, Shipbuilders, Ship Captains, Sailors, African Traders/Kidnappers and Slaves) involved in it. It is a book that should be read in every high school.

African Americans, who are descended from those slaves, have much to be proud of in their endurance, spirit, strength (both physical and mental) and resourcefulness in surviving such horrific trauma.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Detailed Study With a Different Take, September 2, 2011
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This review is from: The Slave Ship: A Human History (Paperback)
I have read several books on the Atlantic Slave Trade and I consider myself fairly familiar with the subject. That being said after reading this book, I gained a perspective on the Atlantic Slave Trade that I did not have before. Rediker takes the unique approach of examining the ship itself. Interestingly enough there have been very few books that examine the ship itself in its own context. This is surprising because, as Rediker effectively argues the ship is the lynchpin to the entire operation of the trade. Rediker identifies the ship as apiece of complex technology in its own right. The author also provides many important details of the ship that give an impression of the hardship experienced on it in better detail than any other book I have read. Some of these details include how slave ships were followed by a constant school of sharks waiting to feed on the dead as they were tossed overboard. While there are only a few chapters dedicated to the ship itself, the other chapter discusses familiar themes but in the context of their relation to the ship. For example, the fact that for many slaves the Middle Passage was the terrifying conclusion to a much longer overland journey from freedom to slavery. While a few of the other reviewers have characterized this book as a political polemic, I believe that it is impossible to separate the slave trade from the politics and while Rediker does approach the subject from a leftist perspective, it is a well researched and interesting one. The parts that described the experiences of the sailors of these ships were especially interesting. The slave ship was a unique tool of exploitation in an exploitative system to separate it from the politics of the system would be unrealistic. This is a highly interesting book that is a must read for anyone even remotely interested in the subject.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye Opening Account, December 2, 2007
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This is a very well documented accounting of a period of American History we would all want to forget. Each American, or would-be American will find this eye opening. There are many perspectives presented here, which, unfornately are not revealed in any other source that I've found. It puts a brand new view in front of the reader that allows a better understanding of what was considered a need for the economic development of a new world, that was conveniently found in the exportation of human labor. In the introduction, the author indicates the accounting was painful to write, and if he has done his job well, it will be painful to read. He did his job very well, as the book was spellbinding, loaded with data, and very painful to read. A lot is to be learned by reading this book. I'm left with the feeling that the use of human labor in such a fashion is still present in some parts of the world. The African-American community today, their strength and determination, is the result of their resilience, faith, hope and survival instincts brought on by the many years of struggle during this terrible period of our history. May it never be repeated.
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The Slave Ship: A Human History
The Slave Ship: A Human History by Marcus Rediker (Paperback - September 30, 2008)
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