So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Bittersweet : The Story of Sugar. Peter Macinnis

Bittersweet is a wonderfully interesting and engrossing history of a major food crop filled with interesting details concerning people and events. Although Peter Macinnis traces the story of sugar from its prehistoric origins in New Guinea through to the 20th century, he does so in a very entertaining rather than comprehensive way. As such, this is a good introduction, but will leave the reader with many questions unanswered.

The subtitle, The Story of Sugar could really have been The Story of Sugar and Slavery since, according to the author, this form of forced labor has been so integral to the success of the crop. In fact I am sure that the "Bitter" half of the title is a reference to slavery. Macinnis states that not only the institution of slavery, but also the global politics of Colonialism, has its foundation in the global production of sugar.

So as you can see, the world as we know it has to a large extent been molded by the story of sugar. Thus this book, or some other like it, is important reading for a good understanding of modern world history. Being an Australian gives the author just enough distance from the European and American sugar empires to tell the story with a balanced and somewhat objective point of view.

The book is illustrated with black-and-white maps and each chapter ends with a historic sugar recipe. There is a two page glossary of terms related to sugar production as well as a seven page bibliography of further readings. There are no footnotes to break the narrative.
This is a great introduction to the story of one of the most important cash crops in world history.


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