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THE SLAVE TRADE

THE STORY OF THE ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE 1440-1870

A masterful survey of the origins, development, nature, and decline of the trade in African men, women, and children, drawing heavily on original sources. Thomas (Conquest: Montezuma, CortÇs and the Fall of Old Mexico, 1994, etc.) argues that, while the practice of slavery was widespread in Europe even during the Middle Ages, it was the Portuguese, as their explorers began to establish trade in Africa in the 1440s, who turned an intermittent habit into a large and sophisticated business. Most other seafaring European nations- -including the Spanish, English, and Dutch—soon followed. Drawing heavily on journals, state documents, business ledgers, and memoirs, Thomas is able to trace in astonishing detail how the business was run, who financed it, and what their profits were, and to explain the complex and profitable interactions of merchants and governments in the trade. Because Thomas is so thorough, there are numbers of surprises here, including the details of the longstanding collaboration of some African rulers with the slave trade. It's also startling to discover that, according to Thomas, approximately one in every ten slave ships experienced a slave rebellion—and that a few were even successful. The sailors in the trade, Thomas notes, were treated horribly themselves: The mortality rate of Dutch crews, for instance, hovered at about 18 percent, while on average about 12 percent of the Africans being transported died at sea. While this is primarily an economic and political history, Thomas does not slight the suffering of the slaves, nor the widespread corrupting effect of the trade on the nations involved in it. He concludes with a vivid history of the long struggle of the abolitionists, beginning in the 18th century, to make the trade illegal. Grim but consistently gripping history, told with clarity and a meticulous attention to detail, this is likely to become the standard reference on the economics of the slave trade.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-81063-8

Page Count: 760

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1997

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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