The Slave Ship a Human History by Marcus Rediker

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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12 million slaves too many. Rediker’s book goes in depth about the gruesome and horrendous journey that brought 12 million slaves through the Middle Passage that was run by the British and Americans during the 18Th century. While this book may not all be true events, it can easily come to life very quickly for its readers as Rediker really paints a vivid picture about the stories of these terrified slaves. An emotional and very sad time that really leaves you thinking about how horrible these times were for any person of color. Rediker was well prepared when writing this book. He spoke about many things in his book. The first thing he spoke about was the moving and disturbing stories of slaves during their passage. He briefly spoke about the slave ships make and how it was built. He even spoke about a captain’s point of view, the man responsible for transporting the slaves. But overall his focus was on every aspect of the slave trade from stories of those on the ship. There isn’t one main thing he focuses on, he speaks on everything.

He decided to limit his investigation to the British involvement in the slave trade over just one century. His choice makes sense because it has been estimated that almost half of the total slaves transported from Africa to the New World endured this trip in the bottom of slave ships during that century. Rediker begins his book by taking us through the disturbing stories of many of those enslaved. Some of the stories he wrote about left me in utter disbelief. What left me really blown away was how some slaves were so desperate that they committed suicide to avoid being on the boat or even being traded off in America or any country or land willing to accept slaves.

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One story that left a significant impact on me personally was about how desperate a man can get when in captivity. Rediker tells us about a slave on board who is not cooperating, he attempted to commit suicide by trying to cut his throat but failed and later got stitched up by the doctor and placed below deck to rest. The next morning, they headed down to check on him and he’s bleeding out because he ripped out his stiches to attempt another suicide. The crews then proceed to look for the object he used to try and kill himself again and it turns out there was no weapon, he used his finger nails. He attempted to rip open his own throat with his fingernails. Rediker states when they asked the man why he did it, “He declared straight forward that he would never go with white men, he decided death over slavery”.

Redkier is really giving it to us all. He’s showing us with detailed information just how desperate some men were and that’s only one story out of many that he tells us about in his book. He uses such great detail to really let us know a part of how horrible it was to be a slave. A man is picking death over life because he believes it’s better to die than to become a slave. Rediker starts off the book in a brilliant way, by starting off with a bang. He doesn’t ease into it, instead, he really just digs deeps and gives his audience the honest and painful truth. He lets you picture what’s going on in that slave ship. The way that Rediker writes the stories, allows the reader to really visualize what’s taking place on the ship. But one thing many people don’t realize is that many slaves were bought and sold by other black Africans.

Each Chapter is so well constructed by Rediker. He makes sure to talk about everything and he even goes so far as to explain to us the layout of the ships. I’m so impressed with his research when it comes to this book, he doesn’t just briefly talk about it, he reconstructs these ships with his words. Rediker describes it as “a floating dungeon, a mobile, seagoing prison at a time when the modern prison had not yet been established on land” (Rediker 45). The is such a profound statement he makes. Redkier is attempting to give us a good image of what exactly the slave ships seemed like in those times. There were not cameras back then so the only thing they have to go off is simple drawings.

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Rediker reproduces a 1787 drawing of the slave ship Brooks. The ship was built in 1781; its lower deck was designed to hold about 300 slaves. Each slave occupied a space comparable to which a coffin would. Each adult man was allocated a space six feet long and fifteen inches wide, while adult women, boys, and girls had even less space. The height of the prison area was just five feet, and there were no toilet facilities for the slaves. So I’m sure many people can imagine just how horrible the conditions really were down there because slaves had to go to the bathroom where they laid. Those slaves who died during the Middle Passage were simply thrown overboard and eaten by sharks.

As you continue to read the book, Rediker does a great job and continuously brings you in. With each chapter and each page that goes by its continuous history. While some of these stories he is talking about aren’t based on true events, they do have some accuracy to them. But its history that has happened. Some of these stories may be spot on with how much some of these people suffered. The circumstances these slaves were in and the suffering they endured was horrific and Redkier does a phenomenal job depicting that. I cannot stress enough just how much this book does for you as a reader. Some of things you read really leaves you in disbelief this is part of world history. 

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The Slave Ship A Human History by Marcus Rediker. (2021, Oct 16). Retrieved from