THE DILIGENT: A Voyage Through the Worlds of the Slave Trade

Robert Harms, Author . Basic $30 (466p) ISBN 978-0-465-02871-9

Yale historian Harms (Games Against Nature) explores the global scope of an odious industry by tracking the slave ship Diligent, which sailed from Vannes, France, in 1731. Using First Lieut. Robert Durand's journal, Harms fleshes out the multinational web of trade relationships and transactions, both legal and illegal: European countries competing for profits; government-sanctioned monopolies giving way to private enterprise; African rulers vying for their share of the profits. The Diligent's cargo of 256 Africans was destined for Martinique's plantation industries, and the profit-and-loss ledger was the lieutenant's primary concern, writes Harris: "Durand mentioned the African captives only twice during the entire sixty-six days of the middle passage, and then only to record deaths." Paradoxically, given the nature of his business, Durand complained when having to leave a hostage in Elmina after a Bordeaux slaver abducted several African merchants, that such deceit made it difficult for "honest men" like himself to conduct trade. Most of the book offers observations based on Durand's journal rather than a patchwork of quotes from it. His reflections blend with other surviving accounts to reconstruct the events of the voyage, and copious footnotes document the extensive research Harms has done to tell the story. By fixing the French ship within the context of its 18th-century world, Harms explores part of a multilayered story—"how the slave trade operated in certain places at a certain time... during a crucial period of economic and political transformation." In doing so, he extends our understanding of the Atlantic slave trade by shedding light on new aspects of its tragic history. 65 illustrations, many by Durand. (Jan. 15)

Forecast:The middle passage has been a subject of interest in recent years; this should refocus attention on it and achieve good sales.

Reviewed on: 12/17/2001
Release date: 12/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 496 pages - 978-0-465-02872-6
Hardcover - 496 pages - 978-1-903985-18-2
Open Ebook - 496 pages - 978-0-7867-2479-6
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