James Pope-Hennessy’s book is less comprehensive than its title implies. It is chiefly concerned with the English slave trade from the Guinea Coast and the Niger delta to the West Indies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It makes only passing reference to the somewhat differently organized trade from Angola to Brazil and to the complex arrangements for supplying slaves to Spanish America Scelle’s classic Traite négrière, for example, is not mentioned. The book sheds no light on business organization or financing; it is not an essay in economic history. It consists mainly of word-pictures describing conditions in the trade and drawn from the published accounts of people either engaged in it or devoted to its suppression. The author has ransacked the English literature on this topic thoroughly; the familiar accounts of horrors—and, to this reviewer at least, one or two unfamiliar ones—are rehearsed; and as usual in reading such accounts, one is amazed at the calm acceptance of horrors by men who were not all brutes or monsters.

In endeavoring to explain this acceptance, Pope-Hennessy understates the complexity of English attitudes towards the trade; it is unfortunate that he was not able to consult Douglas Grant’s recent fascinating book The Fortunate Slave (Oxford, 1968). Similarly Pope-Hennessy gives the impression, perhaps inadvertently, that revulsion against the trade began with a few eighteenth-century Englishmen. There was always in Europe, at least from the sixteenth century, an undercurrent of hostility to African slaving; but Pope-Hennessy makes no mention of Tomás de Mercado, or of Alonzo de Sandoval, whose Naturaleza. . . . de todas Etiopes (Seville, 1627) is not only a mine of anthropological information, but one of the ablest denunciations of slavery ever written.

With all these limitations, the book makes an undeniable impact. The author writes with a fierce, unsentimental indignation. He is a very good describer of places and has been to the places he describes. Anyone remembering the crashing surf and stinging sand of Badagry or the creepy, clammy labyrinths of the Delta, must feel a start of recognition in reading Pope-Hennessy’s descriptions of these ill-omened places.