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The Spice Route: A History (California Studies in Food & Culture) Paperback – 13 May 2015

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Product details

  • Paperback: 308 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (13 May 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520254163
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520254169
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,769,078 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Praise for Last Post

Just occasionally one comes across a really wonderful book. John Keay's Last Post is just such a treasure. Readable, erudite, witty, immensely enjoyable (Richard Gott Literary Review)

A vivid and impressive account of an extraordinary period of imperial history (Philip Ziegler Daily Telegraph)

A superb account ... he controls the overall shape of the complex narrative with deceptive grace, while sewing small delightful jewels of detail throughout the fabric (John Simpson Sunday Telegraph)

An astonishing, panoramic view of an immense process (Jan Morris)

An immensely well-researched and entertaining book (Simon Heffer, Observer)

Its digressiveness is also a boon, allowing Keay to touch on everything (FT Magazine)

Serves up a feast of detail on a fascinating and little-known subject (Sunday Telegraph)

A delightful, scholarly and thoroughly readable account (Geographical)

'Keay's retelling of the tale is restrained yet powerful, his choice of facts compelling' (Guardian)

'Keay has produced another scrupulously researched, persuasive book.' (TLS)

'Impressively researched' (Guardian)

'Absorbing' (Scotsman)

'Fascinating new history' (Daily Telegraph)

'Fascinating... covering 3000 years of history in well-written, easy-to-read prose...The book is full of wonderful facts... Quite a lot to discuss. Exploitation, greed, values. All grist to a reading group's mill' (Margaret Burgess, NewBooksMag) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

Aromatic spices and exotic trade routes mingle headily in this lush, evocative history. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Overseas Reviewer on 26 Aug. 2007
Format: Paperback
As can be determined from the title, this book represents a fairly brief history of the spice trade and also serves as an introduction to the age of discoveries, recounting the exploits of De Gamma, Columbus et al. I found this all very interesting but would have preferred to read more coverage of the recent history, e.g. Dutch 'colonisation' of the east Indies, than is included.

Unfortunately, as with the other titles by Keay that I've read, I found the writing style needless elaborate, e.g. "Herodotus, who was born at about the time of Darius' death, well knew the facts of its provenance, though still disinclined to forgo the chance of embellishing them..." This does become tiresome. The text also contains one or two niggling errors, for example the author seems unaware that coriander can be both spice and herb.

'Spice Route' is one of those books that teaches a 'little about a lot' and for that reason I'd recommend it to others, particularly as it is not overly long at ~250 pages of, albeit small, text.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book because I wanted to understand a bit more about where spices came from.
As I started to read it I found it so fascinating that it was hard to put down, a truly riveting read and quite inspirational.
It is a factual account of how, when and who brought spices to this country, the origin of these spices and the wars over them.
This is not the kind of book that once you have read it you never pick up again, I often use it to cross reference other areas of interest.
This is a quality, superbly written book about the fascinating history of everyday kitchen spices that we have all grown up with.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book has lots of interesting facts - I know it does.The style is unnecessarily convoluted, meandering sentences and parenthesis after parenthesis that make the whole thing confusing to read.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By S Wood TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 19 Jan. 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
John Keay has written a brilliant, amusing and readable account of the spice trade from pre-history to the 1800's.

Keay as always is irrerevent, his gentle and humourous mocking of the more fantastic elements of the accounts of for example Pliny, Herodotus, Marco Polo,etc are enlightening and amusing, always a pleasant combination. He charts the vagaries of the Spice Route, the changes to it over the centuries and the reasons for those changes succintly and with plenty of clarity.

He is particularly effective in portraying the European incursion into the Indian Ocean and points further east from the late 15th Century and doesnt shirk from describing the more brutal and frankly monstrous aspects of this. Raiding rather than trading would be the more appropriate term for say the Portugese visits to the west coast of India, or the Dutch in Sumatra and the Spice Islands proper.

There are also some beautiful colour plates of people and places related to the Spice Route and a number of maps from different periods in which the development of geographical knowledge is given eloquent expression.

Thoroughly reccomended. As is John Keays The Honourable Company: History of the English East India Company which covers in particular the British involvement in Asia up to 1857.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 11 reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Pepper, Cloves and other Obsessions 23 Oct. 2005
By dinadan26 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
For over two millennium the Western world was obsessed with the spice products of the far east - specifically India, Sri Lanka and the islands of the Malaysian and Indonesian Archipelagos. Obsessed to the point that from the time of the Roman empire onwards Europe ran a constant trade deficit with these countries and with the Arab cultures who for much of the time acted as middlemen. This fine book from John Keay provides a history of this trade from the return of Alexander's soldiers from India bringing with them a taste for spices through to the largely unknown trade of Roman and Hellenistic sailors plying the route from the Red Sea to India and onto the Arabs and finally the Europeans sailing around Africa. In documenting this trade Keay's has provided the reader with a concise but encompassing history of a trade which shaped the world as we now know it.

But equally importantly this book invokes the romance inherent with this subject, leaving the reader to dreaming of sailing to places such as the Zanzibar, Malabar and Coromandel Coasts to trade for spices at the height of trade.

After completing this book, I would recommend an earlier book by John Keay, "The Honourable Company", which is a history of the British East Indian Company and provides more details on the European part of the trade.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
`..the allure of spices lay precious in their glorious irrelevance ..' 21 Jun. 2008
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
If you've ever wondered about what exactly constitutes a spice, where most spices came from and why they were so valuable, then this book will give you a great overview. Did you know, for example, that mace and nutmeg come from the same plant? Or that salt (which is a mineral) is alone in adding intrinsic preservative value to food?

I found this book provided a perfect blend of the exotic, the heroic and the mundane. The story of the journeys which resulted in the discovery of spices, the desire for the rare and the risks associated with transportation make for fascinating reading. Long before a formal stock market existed, futures were made and lost in this precious trade. The spice trade is a fascinating juxtaposition of an historical process spanning three millennia, a geographic progression that encircles the world and a trade in commodities that have little intrinsic value.

So, if you have ever wondered about the stories behind those small packets or glass bottles containing those mysteriously named ingredients that so many of us use in our cooking, you may like to read this book.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The History Less Well Traveled 6 May 2011
By Melinda McAdams - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Having an interest in Southeast Asia and its ancient (as well as its current) history, I was delighted to read a book that is not simply a rehash of European colonization. Think about Columbus, undertaking a dangerous and expensive sea journey -- for what? For the products of "the Indies" ... many of which were at that time called spices. The Europeans' conquests and massacres among the islands of South and Southeast Asia are recounted here in the context of the economics surrounding these valuable products of nature. Fortunes were made (and lost, when ships sank) and countless people from all around the world paid with their lives for the pursuit of this unique source of wealth.

But John Keays takes us back further in time, before the Europeans had mastered sea travel to the degree necessary for them to reach India, the Strait of Malacca and the kingdoms of what is today Indonesia. Arab, Indian and Chinese merchants and traders sailed among the rich islands long before anyone from Europe laid eyes upon those shores. The Bandas ... the Moluccas ... the ancient Greeks and Romans knew the products of these places but never knew the islands whence they came. Pirates (or people we call pirates today) contested those waters centuries ago. Incense and cinnamon -- Keays shows these to us in a new light.

Near the middle of the text, we begin the story of Europe's quest for spices with the journeys of Marco Polo. A subsequent chapter is devoted to China's forays to coasts and islands west of its own. The last chapters are the bloodiest, as the Portuguese, Spanish, English, and Dutch war with the local people of the islands and with one another to secure control of the valuable products. The barbarism of the European Christians staggers the mind.

The reviewer here who said this book reads like a dissertation seriously misrepresents it. I found the writing easy and natural, highly enjoyable (sometimes horrifying) -- and the information conveyed fascinated me from start to finish. Imagine: "In the early tenth century ... Chinese vessels began to put in occasional appearances in the Arabian Sea" (p. 103).

Illustrated, with 16 pages of good color plates and numerous very attractive outline maps.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
More than a book about spices it is about economic history. 13 Nov. 2010
By L. Morais - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Let me start by saying that I still haven't finished reading this book but I'm past the middle. Having said that here's my opinion.

I always wondered why spices were such a big deal in the past. I used to think it was because they were used in medicinal ways or as a mean to conserve food. I bought this book to answer my questions... and it did.
This book reveals the history of spices for millenia, explains us the different concepts of spices during that time, the real uses for them, their origin and, more important, talks about the civilizations that walked and sailed the earth after them.
It is a book as much about spices as it is about economic history. In fact, what interests me the most is this last part.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A classic! 8 Jun. 2014
By Jane T. Sibley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Keay has written a wonderful book here. I am a spice merchant, and have found the information in this book invaluable when folks ask me questions. If you are interested in spices, the spice routes (there were more than one!), this is the book for you. I have given copies to friends, and treasure the one I own.
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