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Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800
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Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  191 Ratings  ·  19 Reviews
Focusing especially on the causes and consequences of the slave trade, in Africa, in Europe, and in the New World, this book explores Africa's involvement in the Atlantic world from the 15th through the 18th centuries. Author John Thornton examines the dynamics that made slaves so necessary to European colonizers. This new edition contains an added chapter on 18th-century ...more
Paperback, 380 pages
Published April 28th 1998 by Cambridge University Press (first published April 24th 1992)
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Dec 30, 2011 Alicia rated it really liked it
A seminal work in the history of Africa and the Atlantic world. I consider it a must-read for any student of world history. Although the writing style can become tedious when Thornton goes into his habit of grocery-listing example after example (really, how many times do I need to read about many lbs of cloth were exported in such and such year in order to get his larger point?), careful readers will learn immensely from Thornton's expert argumentation.
Jan 26, 2010 Sara-Maria rated it it was ok
this book reminds me of a professor i once saw lecture. he specialized in the history of the atlantic slave trade and said the most difficult thing about his discipline was that too many books come out a year and, darn it all, he can't read everything.
May 10, 2009 Dan rated it it was ok
Shelves: slavery
Easy to skim, but not exactly the most engaging writing. Nicely situates "Africa" (to use a totalizing term) as an equal partner in the emergence of the Atlantic world.
Scott Ford
Feb 07, 2010 Scott Ford rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A look at the opening of the Atlantic slave trade between the years 1400-1680. As the title indicates, the emphasis is on African culture and society, rather than European.
This cover is... questionable.

That said, the book is nowhere near as racially dodgy as the cover might suggest. First part aims at a Braudelian total history of the Atlantic world; second half discusses African agency in the Atlantic slave trade, as traders and as slaves. Grants tremendous agency to Africans, arguing that the Atlantic economy was not always and incommensurably dominated by Europe.
Sam Newton
Oct 27, 2011 Sam Newton rated it really liked it
Really like Thorton's thesis and the revolutionary view of African independence rather than massive dependence on Europeans.
Jessica Horne
Sep 27, 2016 Jessica Horne marked it as z_dnf
I did not finish at page 183. I tried. I really did. I hoped to learn a lot but my own snoring woke me up it was not easy to read and only one out of ten facts were useful or interesting.
Kari Smith
Sep 15, 2016 Kari Smith rated it it was ok
This book is extremely well researched (except for the last chapter: only one primary resource in there!). If you look in the notes section of the book in its entirety, there are archaeological and written documents spanning seven language and multiple religious records- Inquisition records, Muslim documents. Like wow. Good job Thornton. But can I just say that maybe it's a bit naive of him to have no disclaimer or to not address that, you know, racists shouldn't take this book and use it to ...more
Alexander Kennedy
John Thornton’s main goals in writing this book are to assess African migration to the New World and to refute the notion that Africans were a passive victim that suffered from European dominance. Rather, Thornton asserts that “Africans were active participants in the Atlantic world” (6). Thornton refutes the idea that Africans were more or less forced into the slave trade to obtain essential commodities. Unlike in Europe where land was the principle form of wealth producing property, slaves ...more
Jan 10, 2015 Deanna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found the premise of Thornton's book, that Africa entered into the Trans-Continental Slave Trade willingly, to be somewhat controversial, though well-supported with primary sources.

Thornton first establishes that the slave trade within Africa was an essential element of the economy. The number of slaves, like goods, represented wealth. When Africans were offered the trade of slaves for foreign goods from the Europeans, this was not a far departure from the way they normally conducted business
Aug 24, 2015 Karen rated it really liked it
Shelves: re-read, comps
I (supposedly) read this for the first time during the summer of 2008. In retrospect, and given the lack of notations after the Intro, I doubt that I did. What a shame that I didn't do so! This book is an excellent resource on Africa and a must-read in the Atlantic World category. In a series of 11 stand alone chapters, divided into 2 sections, Thornton first focused on the political and social structures of Africans along the West Coast of Africa (the ones most impacted by the slave trade) and ...more
Dan Gorman
Oct 06, 2015 Dan Gorman rated it really liked it
Extraordinarily well researched. John Thornton argues that Africans had economic agency in the Atlantic World and were not coerced into trading with Europeans. He also argues that African national identities were not destroyed outright in American slavery, although new groups like churches and clubs replaced the nation/tribe as key social arrangements over time. The point of the book is to show the strength of Africans in Africa and the ingenuity of African and creole slaves in the Americas. ...more
Ben Linzy
Feb 01, 2016 Ben Linzy rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-library
Thorton's seminal work does a good job explaining the Trans-Atlantic slave trade from 1400 till 1680. Although, it doesn't hold up as well in assessing the 18th century aspects of the trade. A flawed classic, but a classic nonetheless.
Jan 01, 2008 Lalena rated it it was amazing
This book challenges the assumption that Africa was a backward, savage continent making it an easy target for greedy Eurpean slave traders. You will think differently about the nature of the transatlantic slave trade after reading this book.
Sep 16, 2014 Noirfifre rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I love how this text helped me understand the provides detail information on the role of Africans in shaping the New World, spanning many decades. Add this one to your history text on slavery both in Africa and in the West Indies.
A scholarly account of the economic and social drivers of the Atlantic Slave Trade, but highlights the agency of African rulers in engaging in trade.
Dec 29, 2007 Linda rated it liked it
really impotant book to read as a student of world history. you might not agree with the author, but he presents some interesting ideas.
Mathew Powers
If I mentioned how much I loved this book, it would take me forever. One of my favorite books -- really enjoyed it on every level.
Nov 02, 2014 Samantha rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-books
A great intro to the connection between Europe, Africa, and the Americas from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries.
Angela Wright
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Nov 13, 2011
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