marny_h96: (eatsleepread)
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Title: Nathaniel's Nutmeg
Author: Giles Milton
Number of Pages: 400 pages
Book Number/Goal: 9/40
My Rating: 3.75/5

Review: From Publisher's Weekly: "Exotic spices such as nutmeg, mace and cloves were treasured in the kitchens and pharmacopoeias of 16th- and 17th-century Europe. Nutmeg was even believed to be an effective remedy against plague. Small wonder, then, that traders of the time ventured to the ends of the earth to secure it. With high drama and gracefully integrated research, Milton (The Riddle and the Knight) chronicles this "Spice Race", profiling the leading participants and recording the ruthless violence with which this very real trade war was conducted. The maritime powers of Europe sent companies of adventurers to the Spice Islands (now part of Indonesia), each nation intent on establishing a monopoly and reaping the stupefying profits that the spice trade could produce. The book concentrates on the competition between the Dutch and English East India Companies to control the spice trade nearly 400 years ago. In 1616, Nathaniel Courthope led an English expedition to occupy the Spice Island of Run, a few square miles of land thickly forested with nutmeg trees. As Milton explains, Courthope's assertion of English ownership of Run Island was rejected by the Dutch, who besieged the island for four years before ousting the English (and killing Courthope). However, Courthope's apparent failure led to an unexpected benefit for his country when, in 1667, a treaty confirmed Holland's seizure of Run but, in exchange, validated England's seizure of another piece of land on the opposite side of the world at the island of Manhattan. Sprinkled with useful maps and illustrations, Milton's book tells an absorbing story of perilous voyages, greed and political machinations in the Age of Exploration."

The title "Nathaniel's Nutmeg" is kind of misleading because Nathaniel Courthope, the title character, doesn't get mentioned in the book until you're halfway through but don't let that keep you from reading. It's an interesting book and easy to read.

Another thing that shouldn't keep you from reading is the fact that the book is told from the British perspective and thus the British explorers/merchants are portrayed as (almost) always good while the Dutch are the villains, at least when they deal with the British.

Apart from those minor drawbacks, the story of the British-Dutch conflict over the Spice Islands is fascinating and from today's point of view, it's hard to believe that nutmeg once was as valuable as gold and almost as expensive. Merchants could make huge profits in the spice trade but a lot of times, the ships and their crew were lost during the long voyage.

Definitely recommended.


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