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The Slave Ship: A Human History

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating Details ·  873 Ratings  ·  116 Reviews
'The Slave Ship' focuses on the so-called 'golden age' of the slave trade, the period of 1700-1808, when more than six million people were transported out of Africa, most of them on British and American ships, across the Atlantic, to slave on New World plantations.
Paperback, 434 pages
Published September 18th 2008 by John Murray Publishers (first published 2007)
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Jay Green
Sep 14, 2016 Jay Green rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My review, originally at the Irish Left Review website:

Everywhere in Chains

George Orwell once said something along the lines of just because the news about the Gulags appeared in the Daily Telegraph, it didn’t mean it wasn’t true. The blurb on the front of Marcus Rediker’s The Slave Ship describes it as “A truly magnificent book.” That quote comes from the Sunday Telegraph. Conceivably, then, the Telegraph stable of newspapers has been correct at least twice in its history (and to be fair, its o
Sep 23, 2007 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Jan 03, 2009 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 06, 2007 Grumpus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, audiobook
This is based upon the audio download from []

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
Gamal Hennessy
I’m developing a science fiction novel about slavery calledHumanity’s Fall. The basic concept isTwelve Years a SlavemeetsStar Trekand 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 likeRootsandAmistadto more general books likeThe African Slave TradeandStill I Rise. But as I ...more
Feb 15, 2010 Dora rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Kathleen Hulser
Feb 04, 2009 Kathleen Hulser rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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, ...more
Tim Boroughs
Dec 26, 2011 Tim Boroughs rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jan 29, 2009 Taylor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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 ...more
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
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 ...more
Jan 01, 2016 Wendy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-2015
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 ...more
Simon Wood
Jan 27, 2014 Simon Wood rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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,
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 ...more
Alexander Kennedy
Rediker offers a very detailed and graphic view of the slave ships and the drama that took place on them. Rediker establishes four main dramas: the relationship between the captain and his crew, the relationship between sailors and the slaves, conflict among the enslaved, and abolitionists and the public (6-8). While Rediker certainly believes that the enslaved were the worst off, he is very sympathetic towards the plight of sailors who often served under bullies for captains who limited their f ...more
Chris Demer
This is a terrific, engaging book about the slave trade and the ships, captains, merchants, slaves and sailors who made the trade possible.
I really learned a lot from this book. If you do not read any other book about the slave trade, this one is the one you should read!

Although there is ample descriptions of the ships employed ion the trade, there is much much more to this narrative. Ships were of different sizes, and many were smaller ships of under 100 tons, although there were greater ones a
Justin White
Aug 05, 2014 Justin White is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book to re-immerse myself in the description of conditions of the Atlantic trade in peoples in preparation of a paper I'm going to begin writing soon for an Atlantic history journal. My background research is on British indentured servants (and occasionally slaves), and Rediker touches on the vagaries of servant/slave/captive/sailor as well. Stories of the Atlantic crossing are vivid, often horrific, and Rediker peppers his work well with personal narrative (as one is compelled ...more
Ronald Jones
A history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade from the vantage point of the upper and lower decks of a slave ship. The author doesn't neglect the broad scope of the trade. He provides much perspective history on this vile centuries long peddling in human flesh. But he centers this account on the conveyance upon which this trade hinged: the slave ship. He captures every disturbing heart rending detail on the brutal conditions suffered by captive Africans within these ships' diseased holds. He recou ...more
Apr 01, 2008 Ray rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Darian Jones
Mar 17, 2016 Darian Jones rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are no words, but because we have erased and sanitized this history from any educational teaching, we are left with generations of adults who ask the question, why can't we just move on. If we understand through science that trauma is passed down generations through out genes, woven into the very DNA of our offspring, then my GOD, how do we not make the correlation to the impact of 407 years of abuse, oppression, slavery, and institutional racism has on our present generation... and even m ...more
Jun 22, 2016 Diego rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Today I finally finished this book, which I must say is in no way an easy read. Not only is this book scary as hell, it just happens to be real, and it's certainly scary to think that human beings were able to do such atrocious things as the ones depicted on almost every of the more than 300 pages of this book. The way Marcus Rediker tells the stories of both sailors, slaves, traders and abolitionists transports you to the scenes which scarily ran through the course of 400 years. Marcus depicts ...more
Sep 20, 2015 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the books that every American ought to read -- that's the good point of the book. The portrait of the horror of the slave ship to both sailors and slaves under the dictatorship of ship captains and the economic prison of early untempered international capitalism is devastating. On the other hand, the book's style is often plodding and academic, which pointlessly draws away from what should have been riveting. The first and last chapters are brilliant. The remainder of the book, I ...more
Oct 03, 2014 Branden rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Slave ship by Marcus Rediker is an amazingly detailed non fiction book based on the slave trade during the eighteenth century. This book's theme of terror is present when reading about the slave’s travels from Africa to america and elsewhere. Learning about everything from slaves accounting of their voyage to the ship and the sailors was eye opening and helped me realize the struggles and mistreatment of African Americans during this unfortunate period of time. The theme of terror is shown t ...more
Apr 04, 2009 Nicko rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A terror-filled floating hell on Earth. Well-researched and brings the horror of this human institution to life.
Timothy Riley
A huge volume of well researched information. Semi-repetitive but on the whole captivating for large sections. I was very aware of how awful the ships were for AFricans. I just didn't know how horrible they were for the common sailors who were conned into sailing them and had atrocious death rates. Thousands over the years were left crippled in the west indies without their pay after being told they weren't going to sail a slaver. It was also interesting to hear about the modifications of the sh ...more
Reginald Simms
As with The Many Headed Hydra that Rediker co-authored this book tells the story of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade with as the title suggest The Slave Ship as a point of focus. Rediker focuses on the revolts and rebellions of the slaves on the ship, the evolution of the ship, the recruitment of the crew for the ship, the captains of the ship, the sailors and shipmates, the slave coast and the kingdoms that traded with the ships, and the abolition of the slave trade. Most of the information to me ...more
Jun 29, 2016 Christine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Academically stunning, and finally an in depth study of the entire merchant system and the ships that made it possible. Multiple viewpoints of the same events, such as the collection of Africans from the coasts of Africa, yields a layered view of how those events unfolded for the different participants. Occasionally repetitive, since quoting the same testimony for different points of view. Since this book is primarily about the ships, and their pivotal mechanism and technology as it was applied ...more
Paul Pessolano
This book traces the beginnings of the use of ships in the transportation of slaves to its inevitable end. The book starts by giving some short stories of what life was like aboard ship. The next couple of chapters gives a detailed desciption of the African contient and the tribes that existed in the main slave trading ports. These chapters are quite difficult to get through and will prove to of little interest to the average reader.

The book does do an admirable job in describing how the African
Sep 09, 2010 Erica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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I was born in Owensboro, Kentucky, in 1951, to Buford and Faye Rediker, the first of their two sons. I come from a working‑class family, with roots in the mines and factories of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia; I grew up in Nashville and Richmond. I attended Vanderbilt University, dropped out of school and worked in a factory for three years, and graduated with a B.A. from Virginia Commonwealth ...more
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