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Bittersweet: The Story of Sugar [Paperback]

Peter Macinnis
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

13 Jun 2002
A fascinating history of the discovery and development of sugar around the world. Forty years after first chewing on sugar cane in New Guinea, the home of sugar, the author underwent some complex dental work as a direct result of his sweet tooth. This led him to explore sugar cane's journey from New Guinea to Shakespeare's England. In the days before dentistry, people paid dearly for this sweet new food from exotic places. Queen Elizabeth I became so partial to hippocras, sugared almonds and pastilles that her teeth turned completely black. Bittersweet is full of ripping yarns and acts of bastardry. Through the ages, sugar has offered opportunities of tremendous riches to the unscrupulous few who grew and sold it. But in the days of manual processing, these fortunes were built on the backbreaking labour of slaves. Bittersweet explores the effects that sugar has had on the world. A foodstuff we take for granted and indulge in more than we should has caused wars and geopolitical balances that have shaped the modern world and the power balances we see in the 21st century. 'The breadth of the connections Macinnis weaves through his tale continually surprises, all the more because the substance sugar is so deceptively simple that, before this book, we have taken it for granted. He has put his encyclopaedic knowledge to excellent use, placing science and technology naturally in a social context'. - Dr Peter Pockley, Australasian Correspondent for Nature. 'Few foods have had such an impact on human history as sugar, from its origins, its influence on the slave trade and its use as a medicine, a luxury, a comfort food and now a cheap filler in the modern processed food supply. Peter Macinnis has traced its path carefully, cleverly crafting the story of all its sweet and sour effects'. - Dr Rosemary Stanton, Nutritionist.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Allen & Unwin (13 Jun 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1865086576
  • ISBN-13: 978-1865086576
  • Product Dimensions: 19.9 x 13.2 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,117,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

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Product Description


"Lively and entertaining: a splendid saga for the general reader." --"Kirkus Reviews"

About the Author

Peter Macinnis has been involved in bringing science to the general public for many years. Formerly a science teacher, he has written a number of school textbooks and science readers, and writes for a number of magazines for adults and children. He left teaching to work as a bureaucrat, first at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum and later at the Australian Museum, before returning to teaching once more, combined with part-time writing. Over the years, he has recorded many talks for radio programs developed by the ABC Science Unit. He is now a full-time writer for adults and children.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well researched 20 Dec 2003
By Valerie Fletcher Adolph VINE VOICE
This book is well researched and takes a careful look at the history of sugar throughout the ages. Unfortunately the writer gets sidetracked into detailing the history of slavery as well and, while admitting that the development and success of sugar plantations in the West Indies is inextricably linked with slavery, the book would have been better if it had been more tightly focussed on the primary topic.
The most interesting aspect of the book to me was that it was Australia-centric, rather than having a mind-set based on either American or English history. It’s good to be reminded once in a while that there are other countries publishing books.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bittersweet 18 Jan 2004
The title of this book is very apt. It is an informative read and at the end one realises that the human history of sugar has bought it's fair share of suffereing. At 176 pages, don't expect an encyclopaedic work. What you do get in abundance is the history of sugar production and trade.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.7 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lively and engrossing history of the social impact of sugar 8 Aug 2004
By F. Orion Pozo - Published on
This 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 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.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An evenhanded introduction to an important food 11 Nov 2006
By Harry Eagar - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It isn't easy to find books about sugar that do not grind an ax, usually antisugar, but not always. Peter Macinnis's little book -- hardly more than an extended essay, really -- avoids this error, with wit and flair.

Sugar cane has been around for perhaps 9,000 years as a cultivated crop, and sugarmaking not nearly so long. Macinnis rightly concentrates on the past 400 years, when sugar broke out into the world. It is now produced, from cane or beet, in more than 100 countries.

One fault of this book is that it does not make clear how very important sugar remains, especially in the diets of poorer people. The very poor do not eat sugar, but as soon as people rise above semistarvation, one of the first things they do is buy sugar. Sugar supplies nearly 10% of calories worldwide. To Americans, who worry about their waistlines, this may seem like a bad thing. But calories are inadequate in the diets of hundreds of millions of people. Sugar is excellent food.

Sugar growing and manufacturing, however, has not been excellent. Cane does not lend itself to small farming -- for one thing, in the best sugar areas, it is a two-year crop. This means plantations, and plantations usually mean exploitation of labor. In cane's case, slavery. Not always, however. Hawaii's sugar labor is the highest-paid agricultural labor in the world. But there's not much of it. Sugar today can be highly mechanized, but in much of the world labor is still cheaper than machines.

There is an enormous historical literature on sugar and slavery. Not much of it is easy reading and most of it assumes background information that most readers don't have. 'Bittersweet' is the best general introduction to sugar I have seen, fair and fairly sophisticated. Unlike, say, Mintz's book, mentioned in an earlier review.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A decent history of sugar 15 Aug 2012
By Laurence Chalem - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
BITTERSWEET: THE STORY OF SUGAR provides a decent history of sugar into the Americas, however, SWEETNESS AND POWER: THE PLACE OF SUGAR IN MODERN HISTORY by Sidney Wilfred Mintz is the best book on the subject. Recommended nevertheless... - lc
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bittersweet is missing something 6 May 2004
By Tamis Renteria - Published on
This is decent popular social history. However, I find it amazing that Macinnis has failed to acknowledge or reference the brilliant 1985 work on this same subject by anthropologist Sidney Mintz: Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. How could he have missed this book in doing his research?
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bittersweet History 2 April 2004
By Luke Owens - Published on
Macinnis has written the exhaustive history of sugar cultivation and trade. I doubt anyone could do the job as well. His blend of fact and humour make for fascinating reading that rarely bogs down. Definitely a book to read, even for diabetics like myself!
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