Book review, “The Forgotten Slave Trade”

I just finished “The Forgotten Slave Trade: The White European Slaves of Islam“, by Simon Webb. Absolutely great book. It actually covers a lot more of the history of slavery than JUST white Islamic slaves, because there are several closely related parts of the slave-trade that all need to be spelled out to make the whole picture make sense. It doesn’t cover Native American slavery, south or east Asia slavery, but most of the rest of it gets hit.

His writing style is light and easy to read. He occasionally dives into etymology for a better understanding of important words. Sometimes he does a quick recap, or make a reference to something that will be more fully addressed in a later chapter, so it has excellent cohesiveness and flow. There are well over a hundred cited sources, a wide variety of them, and some I recognized as things I’m familiar with, or even have on my own shelf. He misses a few points, bit hits a whole lot of them very well.

Broadly, he covers slavery in Rome, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe from roughly Early Egyptian times (a little) through to modern times, using history to explain the viciousness of the Bosnian / Serbian war in the late 90s, and the reaction in places like Hungary to masses of Muslim “refugees” streaming toward Europe from points east and south. No small part of the discussion is the economics and mechanics of the trade, often designed to provide excellent and easy comparisons and context for understanding it clearly.

Some things I knew parts of, but the scope and detail he brings is impressive. For example, the fact that African slaves in America had an average life expectancy of about 36 was not a surprise, but the fact that Roman slaves had a life expectancy of less than 18 was. I knew that Islamic slavers raided England occasionally; I didn’t know it was a chronic problem for more than a half-century, or that they got as far north as Iceland. I knew the Islamic nations had a desire for eunuchs, but not that a huge number of them were adolescent heathen Slavs captured by Christians, sold to Jews to perform the necessary surgery – that had a fatality rate between 75% and 90% and he goes into significant detail on it – and that the survivors would be transported to the Islamic world for final sale. Anyone who knows something of American slavery, and thinks it was “particularly brutal,” will be soundly disabused of that notion by this book. It was, if anything, par-for-the-course, and about the only things unique about it was that the blacks in the new world thrived relative to everywhere else they were taken, and it had a happy ending (the eventual outlawing of slavery worldwide, freeing many of them).

Overall, a very impressive, if not particularly imposing, book, and highly reccomended.

Various places where you can get it: BarnesAndNoble,  Amazon,  EbayBooksAMillion

3 thoughts on “Book review, “The Forgotten Slave Trade”

  1. I’m German/Irish. My first relative in American was Shang-highed in London as a youth. Made to work the ship to Jamestown colony in the 1680’s.
    Where he was sold as a slave and worked as a slave over 20 yrs.. Until he escaped.
    So F–king what?
    I guess I can tell Kamala, Bitch! where’s myyy money?
    I worked construction for almost 40 yrs.. And have been treated by the government worse than one would a slave.
    In the 1800’s you didn’t put and $1500.00 dollar slave in a yellow fever swamp to ditch drain it. You put a .35 cent a day Irishman down there. And when he died you holler next!
    Slavery never ended. It just changed form.

    1. Yes. Another book I read a while back was “White Cargo,” about the “indentures”, and the difference between that and slavery was technical contract language (if that). They actually had a lower value because they carried an “expiration date,” and had a higher mortality rate. Brutal reading. Another on my shelf that I’ve not gotten to yet is “To Hell or Barbados: The ethnic cleansing of Ireland” by Sean O’Callaghan. You might find that an interesting read, given your background. “Barbadosed” is a legit verb from the period. As always, thanks for commenting.

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