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Nathaniel's Nutmeg: How One Man's Courage Changed the Course of History [Paperback]

Giles Milton
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
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Book Description

16 Mar 2000

In 1616, an English adventurer, Nathaniel Courthope, stepped ashore on a remote island in the East Indies on a secret mission - to persuade the islanders of Run to grant a monopoly to England over their nutmeg, a fabulously valuable spice in Europe. This infuriated the Dutch, who were determined to control the world's nutmeg supply. For five years Courthope and his band of thirty men were besieged by a force one hundred times greater - and his heroism set in motion the events that led to the founding of the greatest city on earth.

A beautifully told adventure story and a fascinating depiction of exploration in the seventeenth century, NATHANIEL'S NUTMEG sheds a remarkable light on history.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre; New Ed edition (16 Mar 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340696761
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340696767
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 17,998 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

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)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A revelation! 11 July 2009
This book well exceeded my expectations. I thought I would be learning a bit about nutmeg and the islands where it grows, when in fact, I understood how colonialism and the British Empire began. Another fact suddenly hit me when reading this book: When I was a kid, I thought than marine explorers such as Magellan were setting up on their years long journey simply pushed by the desire to go where no (white) man has ever been, to discover and push themselves just like an Everest climber would do. Well, if you thought that too, think again. Most people in marine exploration were driven by trade and gain. A single cargo of spices and nutmeg brought back to London would repay the whole expedition and bring immense profits to those in charge.

Nathaniel's Nutmeg tell the story of the decades long struggle between the fledging British East Indian Company and the Dutch East Indian Company set up by merchants in the 16th and 17th centuries. I felt a bit sorry for the British who constantly suffer from lack of fire and manpower. In fact, I felt I could not give the full five stars to the book (I would easily give 4.5), because this long struggle at such a disadvantage for the British is almost unbearable, and wore me down little by little.

Fortunately, the author kept a gold nugget in store for us at the end. The sacrifice of our hero Nathaniel Courthope was not made in vain, for the Dutch eventually agreed to exchange Run, the last English Nutmeg producing Island (on paper only) for the island of Manhattan (New Amsterdam), which was to be renamed New York. If only these men knew at the time how they were changing the world!

The book is very readable and well illustrated with maps of the world, and the spices islands. I felt this was extremely helpful and left me asking for even more maps and illustrations! Alltogether, a must read!
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars All this just to spice up our lives! 7 May 2009
To sum up: Extremely interesting but hard going. I thought I was going to read the story of Nathaniel but he was hardly mentioned and it was really a record of the various expeditions to, primarily, the spice islands in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. I had no idea the effect the spice race had on English and European history (not to mention that of the spice islands themselves) and the hardships that people went through are unimaginable (who'd have thought it of the Dutch!). I had to read it in stages and I got a bit lost at times with all the names and places - a summary on each chapter somewhere would have helped.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
The action of Nathaniels nutmeg cuts between the merchants of London and Holland, the dangers of the high seas and the prizes of the East Indies. The problem is Milton dwells too much on the developments before the main story, this builds up the expectation of the reader so that in the end Nathaniel Courthopes story is a bit of an anti-climax. Milton's treatment of Courthope is nothing less than hero worship and Milton repeatedly laments that Nathaniel has been cheated out of his place in history. However this is a fine story which is well worth reading.
But, one small thing which has nothing to do with Giles Milton. The cover quotes Phillip Henscher who when reviewing the book for Spectator said that this book " Makes you want to pack your bags and go off travelling to find that special place" I would have thought that the effect of this book would be the complete opposite - to make the modern reader think " Isn't it great I'm not a 17th century sailor dying of malnutrition!"
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
This is a wonderful story and the book is well researched. However the book is badly let down by the authors poor storytelling, tiresome use of language and in poor editing. I finished it feeling like I had just consumed something that was very nearly excellent, but was in fact very unsatisfying.
The storytelling was confusing and jumped about in time without giving me sufficient information to relate the many events in different parts of the world. The story was also given away too much by captions to pictures which were in completely the wrong place.
The authors language was flowery and falsely enthusiastic.
It felt like a book that used to be larger, but was grudgingly edited down and lightened up for the mass market.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars tripleplus epic story 23 May 2014
Five stars really is not enough for this one. What a story!! Giles Milton is the best. What struck me most is just how extreme those times were, the sheer intensity and amount of violence (picture a few English merchants in an Indian port, running for their lives, chased by angry Portugese incited by Jesuit priests), the stunning bravery of the adventurous sailors who risked (and often lost) their lives for a few sacks of nutmeg (OK the stuff was worth more than gold pound for pound). A nice feature is that the book also features a lot of Dutch heroes such as my ancestor Willem Barentsz and the grim hero Jan Pieterszoon Coen whose lack of humor and compassion clearly did not stand in the way of success. Cannot recommend this book strongly enough. Just one critical comment: it would have been even better had Mr. Milton tried just a bit more to organise the story in a chronological sequence; the jumping around between say 1620 and 1590, then 1610, then 1550 etc. eventually got a bit irritating.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A really interesting book
Reading this whilst visiting the relevant islands made it all the more interesting.

A good narrative well written made this book a pleasure to read
Published 8 months ago by jack Ladeveze
5.0 out of 5 stars Once again the author has written an interesting book
I am still reading this very interesting and informative book on the spice trade and what went on etc well done
Published 11 months ago by John Seymour
2.0 out of 5 stars Nathaniel's Nutmeg.
Really only a list of mainly unsuccesful journeys to collect nutmegs. Interesting but it ended up being very repetative and boring.
Published 13 months ago by anne goodlet
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read, hard to put down.
Fantastic story which threads together so many aspects of the history of the asia region, compelling reading with so many little facts. A joy to read
Published 15 months ago by Roara74
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow!
What a great book... the starting history of the British empire.

This book is very well written and i would recommend this to anybody interested in the history of the... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Craig Davies
4.0 out of 5 stars Present
I read this book years ago and thought it would be just the present for my daughter's nautical father in law.
Published 20 months ago by Mrs. C. M
5.0 out of 5 stars Spice
After sailing past the spice islands and hearing some of the history of them, this book was a must - a real good read.
Published 21 months ago by Techno Nanna
3.0 out of 5 stars Or how many lives were lost in the battle for spices.
Tells the history of the spice islands, the deceptions, cruelty and ruthlessness of Dutch, British and Portugese. Despite the title, Nathaniel only plays a small part. Read more
Published 21 months ago by MissieB
5.0 out of 5 stars East India?!
Another book by Giles Milton that I really enjoyed. Having read White gold, I was educated in historical events I was otherwise unaware of, but thought I liked Milton's style. Read more
Published 23 months ago by RMCT
5.0 out of 5 stars I see the Dutch in a new light!
Up to this book I'd always reckoned the Dutch to be a nice bunch who we got on well with. Well this was a bit of a revelation. Amazing slice of history I knew nothing about. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Mr R J Neilson
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