Spice: The History of a Temptation

Spice: The History of a Temptation

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The history of an obsession that once shaped the world In the ancient Egyptian temple of Dayr al-Bahri is preserved the earliest surviving representation of a merchant fleet. Date to around 1495 BC, rows of hieroglyphs record that the pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut sent the fleet one thousand nine hundred miles south to the land of Punt, a mysterious kingdom somewhere in the Horn of Africa, whence it returned in triumph with a priceless cargo of cinnamon. Yet cinnamon never grew there; it comes from the islands of Southeast Asia; the scarcely credible conclusion is that by 1500 BC there was a trade in cinnamon from one side of the Indian Ocean to the other. At some unknown place, the long-forgotten merchants of Punt acquired the spice, and then resold it for the use of the embalmers, cosmeticians, priests, gods and god-kings of the Nile. These hints of an ancient trade in spices are only the first, tantalisingly obscure fragments of an epic story. For the sake of spices, fortunes have been made, empires built and destroyed, and new worlds discovered. In the seventeenth century more people died for the sake of cloves than in all the European dynastic wars of the period. Perhaps only the story of mankind's infatuation with precious metals can rival the story of spice in scope; and only the history of silver and gold rivals that of spice for its improbable and extraordinary combination of discovery and conquest, heroism and savagery, greed and violence. The history of spice encompasses all the old civilizations and the new, from the lands of the Old Testament to the Spice Isands themselves. This is Jack Turner's first work, but the ambition and brilliance and lucidity of his writing surely mark him out as a new star in the historical firmament. This will be a remarkable book.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 448 pages
  • 160 x 236 x 44mm | 662.26g
  • HarperCollins Publishers
  • HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • 5 b/w illus, 12 b/w, 10 col plates (16pp), With index
  • 000257067X
  • 9780002570671

About Jack Turner

Formerly a MacArthur Foundation Research Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, and a Rhodes Scholar, Jack Turner has been cook, farmhand, and photographer and has lived, and travelled in Britain, Spain, Indochina, South America, Syria, Southern Africa and Australia. He has a first-class degree from Melbourne University and a D.Phil from Oxford. He can speak and/or read seven languages.show more

Review Text

In our modern lives, they are a household staple, purchased in small jars at the supermarket with the weekly shop. Yet, for two millennia, spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg were the exotic ingredient that lured nations into a frenzy of exploration, wars and empire-building, with global consequences that can scarcely be imagined today. The Romans sent ships to India to procure flavourings for their infamous banquets; the Dutch and Portuguese were driven to acquire empires in the Pacificthat would allow them to gain a financial stranglehold on world trade; the mediaeval Church issued edicts against these sinful and luxurious temptations; erotic bestsellers counselled unconventional uses for chillies and nutmeg; even the discovery of America was an accidental consequence of Columbus's quest for cinnamon. This is a rollercoaster read, endlessly erudite and widely sourced, yet so beautifully written and entertaining that the pages themselves seem redolent of all the exotic aromas of the spice market. Probably the best history book you will read this year. (Kirkus UK)show more