Consider the humble jar of nutmeg pushed to the back of your kitchen cupboard, among all the other spices that you hardly ever use. Would you believe that nutmeg formed the basis for one of the most bitter international conflicts of the 17th century, and was also intimately connected to the rise to global pre-eminence of New York City? Strange but true; nutmeg was one of the most prized commodities in Renaissance Europe, and its fascinating story is told in Giles Milton's delightful book Nathaniel's Nutmeg
The book deals with the competition between England and Holland for possession of the spice- producing islands of South-East Asia throughout the 17th century. Packed with stories of heroism, ambition, ruthlessness, treachery, murder, torture and madness, Nathaniel's Nutmeg offers a compelling story of European rivalry in the Tropics, thousands of miles from home, and the mutual incomprehensibility which often comically characterised relations between the Europeans and the local inhabitants of the prized islands.
At the centre of the story lies Nathaniel Courthope, a trusty lieutenant of the East India Company, who took and held the tiny nutmeg-producing island of Run in the face of overwhelming Dutch opposition for more than five years, before being treacherously murdered in 1620. Courthope's heroism led to the English taking the Dutch colony of Manhattan in revenge for the death of Courthope and the loss of Run. The subsequent peace deal between the two nations gave Holland Run and the British Manhattan; New York was born. As Milton wittily remarks, although Courthope's death "robbed England of her nutmeg, it gave her the biggest of apples".
Inevitably inviting comparisons with Dava Sobel's Longitude, Nathaniel's Nutmeg is a charming story, which throws light on a spicy, neglected slice of early Europe's fascination with the East. --Jerry Brotton
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
A magnificent piece of popular history. ... This is a book to read, reread, then read again to your children. (Nicholas Fearn, Independent on Sunday)
Beautifully touching ... To write a book that makes the reader sit in a trance, lost in his passionate desire to pack a suitcase and go to the fabulous place - that, in the end, is something one would give a sack of nutmeg for. (Philip Hensher, The Spectator)
Giles Milton tells his adventurous and sometimes grisly tale with relish ... The thoroughness and intelligence of his research underpins the lively confidence with which he deploys it. (John Spurling, Times Literary Supplement)
A truly gripping tale... His research is impeccable... Once embarked upon the journey of the book, one is loath, sometimes unable... to turn back and abandon it. (Martin Booth, The Sunday Times)
Milton has a terrific eye for the kind of detail that can bring the past vividly to life (The Spectator)