The 16th-century Spanish and Portuguese explorers who went to Africa in search of gold discovered an even more lucrative cargo: slaves. Humans had long been traded in Africa, but the establishment of labour-hungry European plantation colonies in the New World gave these ancient systems new impetus.
A hugely profitable transatlantic trade in human lives soon developed, linking Europe, Africa and the Americas, and fortunes were built. African slaves and their descendants formed the work force that cultivated sugar throughout the Caribbean and Brazil, and tobacco, cotton and rice in the American South.
Although a fervent abolitionist campaign eventually succeeded in changing public opinion and forcing governments to outlaw it, the Atlantic slave trade persisted well into the 19th century, with incalculable human costs.
James Walvin is an expert guide to the origins, development, eventual abolition and legacies of the slave trade, focusing on the experiences of those who lived through slavery.