Giles Milton, author of the best-selling historical adventure, "Nathaniel's Nutmeg," continues to illuminate how little-known personages and events have had a big effect on history, though their stories have been largely lost to modern audiences.
Like his other books, "White Gold" is gory, spectacular and enormously entertaining.
Nearly all of the literature dealing with slavery in the era of colonial expansion from the 1600s and forward deals with the enslaving of Africans headed to North America. There are good reasons for this, both practical and ideological.
On the practical side, very detailed records were kept on American slave trafficking, and the practice in the New World probably accounted for 95 percent of the trade in which people were enslaved in continents other than those of their birth.
On the ideological side, slavery was the glaring flaw in America's founding, and its repercussions resound throughout society today The "peculiar institution" also provides America-bashers with a handy tool to flail the land in which so many soldiers died in the Civil War to free the slaves.
But while Western countries were developing modern economies and mercantilism was giving way to capitalism, the economy in the Muslim world still rested on the ancient model, and slaves were an essential element of the system. To maintain the supply of slaves, sea-going raiders from Islamic Mediterranean countries abducted about 1 million Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries.
While that is a small percentage of the estimated 15 million slaves shipped from Africa to the Americas, it's an amazing number considering the vast differences between the situations in Europe and Africa.
Unlike Western Africa, where natives captured their rivals and sold them traders, the Arab slavers received no cooperation on the ground. Welsh mayors, for example, did not sell captive Scotsmen captured in a tribal war.
And while the Africans were politically and militarily weak, the Arab pirates raiding the British, French, Spanish and Italian coasts for slaves targeted countries that had established navies and advanced governments.
While giving a brief overview of the Islamic corsairs and slave traders' war on Christendom, Milton uses the story of Thomas Pellow - an 11-year-old cabin boy taken when his uncle's ship was seized on a commercial trip to the Mediterranean in 1716 - to give us a close-up view of life as a white slave.
The crew from Pellow's ship was given to Moulay Ismail, king of Morocco, who ended the slave trade there in a rather remarkable way - by demanding them all for himself. Ismail established terror-based totalitarianism that would be unequaled until the age of modern communications gave Hitler, Stalin and Saddam Hussein the ability to control the lives of vast populations.
To some extent, Ismail was close to an equal-opportunity abuser; as one European slave commented, the rest of Morocco's populace was almost enslaved as he was.
Ismail's brand of slavery, however, made "Roots" look like "Gone with the Wind." He worked his captives to death at a staggering rate, mostly by building a monstrous palace that Ismail planned to stretch a mind-boggling 300 miles as an eternal monument to himself.
The king also was given to individual acts of extreme cruelty, such as beheading a slave holding his horse simply to show he still had a good sword arm and devising exquisitely detailed tortures for those who displeased him - something Milton describes with relish.
Despite being mariners in top shape at their capture, Pellow's uncle and most of the crew were worked to death within a few years. Thomas, however, was an uncommonly bright and plucky young lad who caught the tyrant's fancy. Although he was tortured brutally for months until he "converted" to Islam, Pellow eventually gained a position of some importance in Ismail's army.
Pellow had high status as a top soldier and became a loving husband and father, but he never stopped looking for a chance to escape. After 23 years, he finally did and became one of the longest-surviving captives ever to return to England. In an ultimate act of irony, one of his relatives accepted the surrender of the dey of Algiers in 1816, ending the white slave trade.
Some blame European colonialism as one of the root causes of current Islamic terrorism, but in reading about the 200-year history of the Barbary Pirates, one is more struck by how long it took European governments to forcefully deal with the Mediterranean thugs and slavers.
"White Gold" is a rousing adventure that falls somewhere between a Wilbur Smith yarn and the Biblical story of Joseph. While Milton might make a stretch in alleging Pellow's importance in the final chapter, readers will have been so thoroughly entertained - and educated - by then that they are unlikely to hold it against him.