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Marvelously detailed laced with drama The Spice Route spans three millennia and circles the world to chronicle the history of the spice trade With the aid of ancient geographies travelers’ accounts mariners’ handbooks and ships’ logs John Keay tells of ancient Egyptians who pioneered maritime trade to fetch the incense of Arabia Graeco Roman navigators who found their way to India for pepper and ginger Columbus who sailed west for spices de Ga This is a very good history of the spice trade despite the fact that the narrative is a bit confused and the prose can be purple and convoluted and he s obviously biased towards and against certain historical players causing him to gloss over the actions of some and hyper focus on those of others and the fact that there are one or two factual errors But other than that this book was pretty okay Took me forever to read though A little disappointed because he starts off saying too many authors focus exclusively on the European narrative of this subject and not enough on the Asian story and he would do differently and then he basically does the same thing as everyone else Or maybe I just imagined he said that I started this book an ice age ago so it s a little hard to remember Still if you re interested in the subject I suggest giving this a read It s very thorough

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The Spice Route A History

Ma who sailed east for them and Magellan who sailed across the Pacific on the exact same uest A veritable spice race evolved as the west vied for control of the spice producing islands stripping them of their innocence and the spice trade of its mystiue This enthralling saga progressing from the voyages of the ancients to the blue water trade that came to prevail by the seventeenth century transports us from the dawn of history to the ends of the ear Spock was right Having a thing is often not as pleasant as wanting a thing It is not logical but it is often true Such was the case with the spice trade which so tantalized the west that it spurred on a new epoch in human history and fell victim to its own success For centuries spices tantalized civilizations across the Old World uniting them in pursuit Romans wrote with alarm about the mound of gold and silver being lost to the east in the pursuit of clouds of incense and strange tasting food For the west mystery was a key component in their appeal they always arrived via streams of middle men and no one seemed to know they were were ultimately sourced Their guesses based on hearsay could run wild like Herodotus Histories Although none of the pined for substances mace cinnamon etc had preservative powers they did add subtle and exotic tastes to food that made them attractive even to China closer to the source Keay fellows galleys cogs and carracks across the seas and through time beginning with the Roman Empire and moving through medieval conflicts between Christian and Muslim traders before ultimately arriving in the globalized world that the spice trade helped createThe spice trade s history is worth considering because of its legacy its traffic was than mere goods and services They were utter obsessions to both the European and Arab worlds and the drive to find them to control them even spurred on the Age of Discovery and the beginning of a global economy Because of the antagonism between the Christo Islamic political spheres Europeans embarked on great adventures to find uicker and better sea routes to the spice islands they engaged in brutal wars both against on another and whatever poor souls lay in their way Hungry desperate men with guns don t make for ideal guests let alone neighbors Eventually Europe would win control of spice route trade points from the Arab world and conuer the spice sources directly The competition was such first between Spain and Portugal and then even furiously between English and Dutch trading companies that the spice trade fell victim of its own success So many ships were traveling from Europe to the indies around Africa around the Americas through the Red Sea and Persian Gulf that markets were glutted A warehouse in England might have a half decade worth of surplus peppercorn and this in the age of Sail The wooden road that now linked Europe Asian and American shores brought much with than spices it brought competition Spices now had to contend with regular supplies of coffee chocolate chili peppers tea sugar an entire banuet of new and exotic tastes The mysterious allure of spices had been lost in discovery and now they were an old pleasure fading against new possibilities both in Europe and in Asia Just as the spice trade united the classical world Islam China and renaissance Europe through the ages its pursuit led to an Earth increasingly united in trade The age of Discovery came not from scientific or religious idealism but sheer appetite Keay uses his prior research into China and India here to good effect drawing on Roman Arabic and Asian primary sources to delve into the Mediterranean powers search for those goods from afar Although this is a text heavy with details they don t weight down the narrative too much The only real limitation of the book is the complete lack of maps which is problematic considering how large a role geography plays here I largely read this to introduce myself to Keay s writings and will definitely try of his histories RelatedA Splendid Exchange How Trade Shaped the World David Bernsteinhttpthisweekatthelibraryblogspot1493 Charles Mannhttpthisweekatthelibraryblogspot

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The Spice Route is one of history’s greatest anomalies shrouded in mystery it existed long before anyone knew of its extent or configuration Spices came from lands unseen possibly uninhabitable and almost by definition unattainable; that was what made them so desirable Yet livelihoods depended on this pungent traffic nations participated in it wars were fought for it and discoveries resulted from it than from any other global exchange Epic in scope SPICE TRADING AND RAIDING John Keay has written a brilliant amusing and readable account of the spice trade from pre history to the 1800 sKeay as always is irrerevent his gentle and humourous mocking of the fantastic elements of the accounts of for example Pliny Herodotus Marco Poloetc are enlightening and amusing always a pleasant combination He charts the vagaries of the Spice Route the changes to it over the centuries and the reasons for those changes succintly and with plenty of clarityHe is particularly effective in portraying the European incursion into the Indian Ocean and points further east from the late 15th Century and doesnt shirk from describing the brutal and frankly monstrous aspects of this Raiding rather than trading would be the appropriate term for say the Portugese visits to the west coast of India or the Dutch in Sumatra and the Spice Islands properThere are also some beautiful colour plates of people and places related to the Spice Route and a number of maps from different periods in which the development of geographical knowledge is given elouent expressionThoroughly reccomended As is John Keays The Honourable Company History of the English East India Company which covers in particular the British involvement in Asia up to 1857


10 thoughts on “The Spice Route A History

  1. says:

    If you’ve ever wondered about what exactly constitutes a spice where most spices came from and why they were so valuable then this book will give you a great overview Did you know for example that mace and nutmeg come from the same plant Or that salt which is a mineral is alone in adding intrinsic preservative value to foodI found this book provided a perfect blend of the exotic the heroic and the mundane

  2. says:

    An excellent history of the lands that produced much of the wealth of Europe from the Age of Exploration up to the Industrial Age but it begins long long before that with the Arab Indian and Chinese traders whose ships fir

  3. says:

    SPICE TRADING AND RAIDING John Keay has written a brilliant amusing and readable account of the spice trade from pre history to the 1800'sKeay as always is irrerevent his gentle and humourous mocking of the fantastic elem

  4. says:

    This is a very good history of the spice trade despite the fact that the narrative is a bit confused and the prose can be purple and convoluted and he's obviously biased towards and against certain historical players causing him to gloss over

  5. says:

    Keay's dense prose is something to write home about and always rewarding Bet you don't know where nutmeg comes from

  6. says:

    Spices were always an alluring object for Europeans of every hue They wanted to add punch to their meals by liberally sprinkling those exotica used them as medicine and aphrodisiacs and also for worship of gods by smoking them as incense Human history was shaped in no mean measure by the ups and downs in the uest for spices and t

  7. says:

    Great book if you want to go deep in the power of spicies how it changed the global history and everyday life of people I love species and I am always fascinated by how one single spice changed the world Black pepper cinammon cloves and do not forget the vegetables and fruits Spanish and especially Portuguese first Global Sea Empire

  8. says:

    An accessible and engrossing story of our obsession with spices and the lengths both in miles and through power that we have gone to acuire them A narrative that introduces and re introduces due to many myths a number of historical figures from Pliny the Elder to Ibn Battuta to Columbus Keay frames thousands of years of world histor

  9. says:

    Spock was right Having a thing is often not as pleasant as wanting a thing It is not logical but it is often true Such was the case with the sp

  10. says:

    If you like big themes in history this is a book you should pick up I've read a couple of books by John Keay in the past a