This is a wonderful book, if you want to learn more about the history and importance of sugar during The Age of Sugar. I recommend it.
Sugar production was the direct cause of slavery. And "Sugar plantations stand between the old agricultural world of the feudal period and the wage and factory labor of the industrial age," per the book. Sugar set the world of the 18th century in motion, as, almost like a modern-day addictive drug, sugar was an instant hit with whoever tasted it. As humans, from the moment we are born, we crave sweetness.
The drive to produce more and more of the stuff gave men and companies the excuse to treat other men and women like animals, even to the point of working them to death in the process. Such is the story told by this book, with a smooth, honest approach, full of details and insight.
Cane sugar can be traced back to the present country of New Guinea. From there, it was spread by seamen to other parts of the world. By the 1300s, Europeans emerged from the Dark Ages and began to add more flavor to their food. Italian merchants brought sugar to Italian markets. Other Europeans discovered sugar via The Crusades.
The sugar plantation was the invention of the Muslins. The Spanish and Portuguese captured the Canary Islands and The Azores. There, they set up Muslim-style plantations, using African slaves as labor. These plantations had a single purpose: to grow, harvest, then process sugar to be exported and sold elsewhere.
Christopher Columbus took sugar cane from these islands to what are now the modern states of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Soon, sugar plantations boomed there and in Brazil, which became the largest of all producers. Between 1500 and the mid-1800s, more than three million Africans were shipped to Brazil to work the sugar plantations. Large numbers of African slaves were also shipped to the island nations of Barbados, Jamaica and others. By the mid-1700s, so much sugar was being produced, even common people in the New World and Europe could afford it. Tea was being imported to drink for pleasure and energy, but it was the addition of sugar that made it a huge hit.
The Age of Sugar was in full-swing. Per the book, "Between the 1600s and the 1800s, sugar drove the entire economy linking Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.
On the plantations, once land was cleared, the production of sugar followed a continual pattern. The "seeders" planted cane cuttings and covered them with soil. The "weeders" cleared the fields of weeds and tried to control the rats. The "cutters" worked endless hours harvesting the crop, expected to cut and bind more than 4,000 stalks per day. The stalks were sent to the grinding mills, where syrup was extracted, then boiled and strained, leaving the sugar crystals.
The plantations were run like factories. The work was back-breaking and relentless. And, the book makes the point, "the Africans who labored in the sugar fields....were meant to work and die." The plantation owner was a kind of king or god, ruling over his empire of sugar. He had absolute power over the slaves, male and female. Slaves had no rights. Owners preferred to kill their slaves, rather than fear them. As a result, per the book, "on the sugar islands, while more than two million people were brought over from Africa, there were only 670,000 at (the time of) emancipation (1865)."
In contrast, African slaves were the basis of wealth, not only production, for owners in the United States. More than 500,000 are estimated to have been brought in, but over the years the population of slaves grew impressively, so that by 1865 there was an eight-fold increase in their numbers, to more than 4 million African Americans.
Back to Europe, per the book, sugar supplied the energy required by English workers in the mines and the factories during the industrial revolution. But sugar was also the source of the wealth to build and initially operate the factories. Per the authors, "English factories, you might say, were built, run and paid for by sugar." By 1900, sugar was used for jams, cookies, cakes, syrups, candies, tea and more. But it was the labor of the African slaves that had made this all possible. "Their labor made the Age of Sugar - the Industrial Age - possible."
But the Age of Sugar would come to an end. In 1801, Black slaves in Haiti first gained their freedom via an armed revolt, and throughout Europe and America the ideas of liberty and freedom were on the rise. In 1807, England banned involvement in the slave trade, and the United States banned further importation of slaves. Sugar production continued in the United States, especially in the state of Mississippi. But by the 1890s, there was an overabundance of sugar production in the world, and the price of sugar began to collapse. Europe had perfected the cultivation of the sugar beet, which lacked the need of slave labor. There was less and less need for the cultivation of sugar cane.
The book also includes sections on the development of sugar plantations in Hawaii and on the importation of sugar workers from India to the Caribbean plantations. And it ends with a Timeline of significant dates and events related to the story of sugar.