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Slavery, Abolition, and Emancipation

There are thousands of books about slavery, abolition, and emancipation. The following four are readable introductions to a vast topic. You can click on the links or book covers and order them from Amazon - or you can just read my review.

  James Walvin, Black Ivory: A History of British Slavery
Jim Walvin is Britain's formost expert on the history of slavery, and in this concise and readable introduction to Britain's involvement in the slave trade, he charts British involvement in slavery from its sixteenth-century origins to its abolition in the nineteenth century. Walvin also pays considerable attention to the experiences of the slaves themselves, in Africa, on the Middle Passage, and in the plantations. Still the clearest introduction to the subject.
Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade: The History of the Atlantic Slave Trade 1440-1870
A massive, detailed, and meticulously researched account of the rise of the slave trade, from its origins in medieval sugar trading in Venice and the Portuguese voyages of exploration of the fifteenth century, to its demise in the nineteenth century. Thomas shows both the brutality of the slave trade, and its centrality to the culture of the Atlantic world. Essential reading.
  Peter Kolchin, American Slavery: 1619-1877
This short and very readable introduction to the history of slavery in America, particularly in the United States, tells the story of slavery in North America from the seventeenth century to the late nineteenth century, looking at both the economic and cultural dimensions of American slavery, as well as the political developments that led to its abolition. This book is particularly useful for non-American readers wanting to catch up on a vital aspect of American history.
Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains: The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery
An excellent account of the British abolition campaign of 1785-1807 that is not afraid to challenge some received notions. Hochschild reassesses the roles of Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce, suggesting that the latter was less of a 'saint' than he is often portrayed. A gripping read that focusses on the personalities of the abolition movement, offering a real sense of how the campaign unfolded.

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* This page last updated 17 September 2007 *