The world corrupted, from slavery to obesity
By James Walvin
An important new history of sugar that encompasses both today's obesity epidemic and slavery. Walvin argues that we can only fully understand our contemporary dietary problems by coming to terms with their genesis, considering the relationship between society and sweetness over a long historical span dating back two centuries to a time when sugar was vital to the burgeoning European domestic and colonial economies.
The story of sugar, and of mankind's desire for sweetness in food and drink is a compelling, though confusing story. It is also an historical story.
The story of mankind's love of sweetness - the need to consume honey, cane sugar, beet sugar and chemical sweeteners - has important historical origins. To take a simple example, two centuries ago, cane sugar was vital to the burgeoning European domestic and colonial economies. For all its recent origins, today's obesity epidemic - if that is what it is - did not emerge overnight, but instead evolved from a complexity of historical forces which stretch back centuries. We can only fully understand this modern problem, by coming to terms with its genesis and history: and we need to consider the historical relationship between society and sweetness over a long historical span. This book seeks to do just that: to tell the story of how the consumption of sugar - the addition of sugar to food and drink - became a fundamental and increasingly troublesome feature of modern life.
Walvin's book is the heir to Sidney Mintz's Sweetness and Power, a brilliant sociological account, but now thirty years old. In addition, the problem of sugar, and the consequent intellectual and political debate about the role of sugar, has been totally transformed in the years since that book's publication.
JAMES WALVIN is the author of many books on slavery and modern social history. His book, Crossings, was published by Reaktion Books in 2013. His first book, with Michael Craton, was a detailed study of a sugar plantation: A Jamaican Plantation, Worthy Park, 1670-1970 (Toronto, 1970). He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2006, and in 2008 was awarded an OBE for services to scholarship.
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- Publication date:
13 Jul 2017
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A brilliant and thought-provoking history of sugar and its ironies — Bee Wilson, Wall Street Journal
As an historian of slavery, Walvin is well-versed in the triangular trade and explains the role of sugar cane in bringing Africans to the Caribbean. His survey of sugar in our lives is very readable. — Katrina Gulliver, Spectator
A convincing, deep history of this (in)famous product . . . This is not simply the tale of those who toiled to produce sugar . . . Something more than just a scholarly text, this study could not be more timely — Laura Sandy, Lecturer in the History of Slavery at the University of Liverpool, History Today
This study could not be more timely. — Laura Sandy, Lecturer in the History of Slavery, University of Liverpool
A refreshingly historical look at a substance we often take for granted — History Revealed
Former history professor James Walvin's latest book aims to untangle the social, political, and economic history of sugar, a commodity that began as the preserve of the elite, but which now saturates cultures the world over' — NZME
An 'entertaining, informative and utterly depressing global history of an important commodity . . . By alerting readers to the ways that modernity's very origins are entangled with a seemingly benign and delicious substance, How Sugar Corrupted the World raises fundamental questions about our world.' — Sven Beckert, the Laird Bell professor of American history at Harvard University and the author of Empire of Cotton: A Global History, New York Times