Customer Reviews


42 Reviews
5 star:
 (24)
4 star:
 (16)
3 star:
 (1)
2 star:
 (1)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A "must read" for those interested in British and Caribbean history
Make no mistake this book could have been a dry old tome, or equally it could have been the sort of dynastic saga once popularised by James Michener. Instead it borrows from the best of both and is both scholarly and exciting, horrific and enlightening. It is very, very readable. It doesn't shirk the issues either. Firmly placing slavery in context, the sugar trade...
Published on 28 April 2011 by Big Jim

versus
8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Plodding
My husband asked for this book as he is interested in this area of history, even though I had read several reviews (The Oldie was lukewarm about it, I seem to recall) and had previously decided not to surprise him with it. Unusually for him, a man who can read a large hardbook book in two days if it interests him, he has still not finished it six months later. He says...
Published on 12 Jun 2012 by L. E. Metcalfe


‹ Previous | 1 25 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A "must read" for those interested in British and Caribbean history, 28 April 2011
By 
Big Jim "Big Jim" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Sugar Barons (Hardcover)
Make no mistake this book could have been a dry old tome, or equally it could have been the sort of dynastic saga once popularised by James Michener. Instead it borrows from the best of both and is both scholarly and exciting, horrific and enlightening. It is very, very readable. It doesn't shirk the issues either. Firmly placing slavery in context, the sugar trade absolutely relied on the practice, it explores the social mores of the time and how families such as the Drax, Codrington and especially the Beckfords made and frittered fortunes amassed thanks to the enforced efforts of fellow humans. The author does not look back with rose tinted glasses either and tells this intriguing tale with well reasoned condemnation but with also a certain understanding of why the colonial powers acted as they did. In the book you will meet pirates, natives, courtesans, and toffs who inhabited a world of great privilege alongside that of the slaves and factory workers who lived in a world of squalor. Although there are many harrowing passages there are also many amazing adventures along the way.

If you are interested in one of the major factors on which the "success" of the British Empire was based, and want a right rollicking yet very human story to read then this is the book for you.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An epic tale expertly told, 30 May 2011
This review is from: The Sugar Barons (Hardcover)
The subtitle for Matthew Parker's Sugar Barons is Family, Corruption, Empire and War, which provides a fair summary of this incredibly readable account of the West Indies sugar trade.

For Parker, the sugar trade - and the families who made their fortunes from it - provide the starting point for a no-holds barred account of colonialism in the region across the 17th and 18th centuries. In particular, Parker unpacks the British role in the establishment of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, much of which - to this reader at least - came as a shameful revelation. Parker details the barbaric trade right through from the horrendous sea passage from West Africa to the brutality of forced labour on the plantations, where vile punishments and abuse were routinely - and often randomly - meted out by the plantation managers.

In the account of the families - the Draxes, Beckfords and Codringtons - and individuals (notably the extraordinary diary of life on the plantations provided by Thomas Thistlewood) Parker explores, without ever excusing, some of the conditions in which an economy and society could come to be built on such inhuman cruelty: high rates of disease and mortality, which made life cheap and bred amorality, decadence and alcoholism; the vast profits to be had from the sugar trade for the few, often propped up by protectionism; the constant fear amongst the heavily out-numbered white minority of revolt by the slaves; and the realisation that immense wealth could not buy the plantation owners the respectability and acceptance they craved back in England, where they were mocked for their tasteless ostentation - and their West Indian vowels.

Throughout the book there are fascinating sub-plots and details - the breadth and depth of the author's research is astonishing - but Parker is too talented a writer ever to let the pace flag. Sugar Barons is a gripping read from start to finish and is very highly recommended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read, 10 May 2011
This review is from: The Sugar Barons (Hardcover)
Shocking, fascinating and unputdownable

I really enjoyed Matthew Parker's book on the building of the Panama Canal, Hell's Gorge, so had high expectations of his new one. In fact, it is even better. At the heart of the book are a handful of family sagas - we trace families across three of four generations, as they progress from entrepreneurs and adventurers, to sugar grandees, to decadent or hapless inheritors. Along the way, there are gripping battles, pirates, smugglers and privateers, and, of course, the horrors of slavery, calmly related, but all the more powerful for that. The author is particularly good at recreating the heat and drunkenly violent atmosphere of the sugar islands, and showing how even those who came out from England with the best intentions were corrupted by the West Indian slave society they found themselves in. The book rattles along at a great pace, but is at the same time is nuanced and highly intelligent, as well as fabulously well-researched. Thoroughly recommended, even if you are not a regular reader of history.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating and Unusual History With Some Interesting New Perspectives, 10 July 2012
By 
Dr. R. Brandon (England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Sugar Barons (Hardcover)
This substantial work presents a fascinating history of the West Indies and the major role that these small islands played for over two hundred years in the colonial history of Britain. This pre-eminent role was due to the cultivation of the immensely lucrative crop, sugar. The author, Matthew Parker, has clearly undertaken a prodigious quantity of research in areas not usually covered by works found on British bookshelves; the West Indies and the North American colonies. Parker tells an intriguing tale of early settlement in the West Indies where colonists and planters managed to make a living and eventually prosper despite the depredations caused by the indigenous people, atrocious conditions, frequent wars with Spain and France, and the most calamitous of all, an appalling death rate often equal to that of the great plagues, mainly due to yellow fever. The author describes the cultivation of sugar, initially on the island of Barbados and then the Leeward Islands and finally on an altogether massive scale on Jamaica. In the process he charts the rise of the Drax, Codringtons and Beckfords, the premier sugar barons. Sugar sold for immense sums but was highly labour intensive to grow, complicated to process and soil depleting, factors which inevitably lead to the utilisation of slave labour to make such a hazardous project financially viable.
The elements of the slave trade are explained and there is a section on the growth of buccaneering and piracy. This later subject had me recalling books I had read as a child and it was wonderful to see some of these larger than life characters in the pages of a serious history book.
Perhaps some of the most interesting parts of the book relate to the interplay and mutual dependence between the West Indies and the North American colonies, and why during the 17th and 18th centuries the West Indies appeared to be the more valuable to Britain. The early factors which sowed the seeds of rebellion in North America, the Navigation Act, the Molasses Act and other trade restrictions, not to mention the removal of the French threat from Canada, are interesting and show that there was more to this than is often represented by just the `Boston Tea Party'. Unfortunately the all too familiar story of British government incompetence and misjudgement plays a major role. The story of filial squandering of hard earned sugar fortunes also makes for depressing reading.
This book can be quite heavy going at times and might have been an easier read had some of the sections on minor and rather inconsequential characters been omitted, however, it must be very difficult to discard hard won research. Nevertheless this is an illuminating read and throws quite a different slant on early English colonial history.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Book Club review, 5 Jun 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Sugar Barons (Kindle Edition)
I thought this book was fascinating in it's story of the history of the slave trade in the Caribbean. However DO NOT buy this book on your kindle - there are maps and family trees which are impossible to read as they cannot be enlarged but which are really important in following the story. Buy a paper copy!!!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars sugar: the origins for the industrial-colonial model, 14 Mar 2012
This review is from: The Sugar Barons (Paperback)
Parkers history of the West Indies sugar industry is one of the most valuable reads of the year for students of industrial and imperial history. He outlines the origins of the industry which originated on the Caribbean island of Barbados and reached its peak with the cultivation of Jamaica. The final chapters look at eventual decline and collapse.

However, this is much more than a narrative. It's value is in how it draws in key strands of Britains early imperial history showing how they all worked together - but reading between the lines it also makes clear modes of behaviour that still exist amongst the descendants of the sugar barons today - the bankers of the city.

The 17th century saw the cultivation of sugar following ideas first used in Brazil by the Dutch and Portuguese. Other islands soon followed as the price for sugar rocketed in Europe and fortunes were made by the estate owners. Sugar became an essential luxury and demand forced more and more land into cultivation. More was being made in profit than could be spent on the islands- the growing surplus was being spent and invested in England - providing funds for other commercial and early industrial ventures. so far so good, but it is in exploring other aspects of this growth that the book excels:

* the early years coincided with Spain's domination of the area. London encouraged the settlers to help defend and expand their investments. Privateering - the use of ships to attack and loot Spanish treasure ships was encouraged. This would become little more than blatant piracy, especially as it happened consistently, not just during war due to the odd concept that the West Indies were "beyond the line" of normal diplomatic niceties. By the late 17th century this was real "Pirates of the Caribbean territory.
* Sugar is not an easy crop to produce. It requires complex processing from cane and as such represents one of the first areas of agriculture heavily dependent on capital and expertise - key elements of the later industrial revolution in Britain.
* From the start the significance of the wealth generated from sugar for the English economy was recognised in London. Cromwell and the restored Stuarts introduced the Navigation Acts to ensure that the industry and its transportation and sale remained in English hands. so developed close ties with that less important part of England's American empire - the New England colonies. Newport, Rhode Island grew in direct response to the profits to be made by trade with the Indies. Many new England families bought land and ran sugar estates in the West indies making vast profits for themselves and giving them political influence in new England. Several are eventual signatories of the Declaration of Independence.

* Attitudes of the most powerful and influential families towards law and authority from London were selective at best. As time went on and they amassed wealth greater than most others they formed a powerful lobby on the English parliament ensuring financial and foreign policy was directed their way. Government seemed to fear upsetting their perceived interests in way familiar to their modern relations with the Banks.

* The mid 18th century Sugar and Stamp Acts which ultimately led to the US War of Independence were introduced to provide funding to protect the Indies at the expense of what was considered at the time the less significant colonial territory.

However the key thread of the book is that of slavery. Generally little focus is placed on the use of slaves in British colonies. Writers (and syllabuses) tend to focus on the slave trade - the inference being the slaves were carried to be used elsewhere - presumably the US southern plantations. Parker makes it very clear that this "modern" slavery was driven by the needs of the Indies. Sugar cultivation is very labour intensive. The islands were amongst the least healthy places on earth with mortality, especially amongst Europeans being very high. Slaves brought in from Africa were the answer for the owners and were employed in ever growing numbers from the mid 17th century, despite their own high death rates. On some islands they eventually outnumbered whites 16 to 1. They were considered of little value other than as an economic commodity and Parker shows clearly how dehumanised the owners and their white management had become to slavery. In places I was reminded of the treatment in Schindlers List of the Jews by the Feinnes character in the Labour camp. Harsh, brutal treatment was considered by many as correct. Even those arriving from England with initial scruples, usually lost them pretty soon. In one of the books most valuable chapters though Parker uses the diaries of an English overseer Thomas Thistlewood, to draw attention to the complexities of the white-black relationship as well as its sexual consequences for women slaves.

Supported throughout by individual histories with a focus on the Landowners, this is well written and accompanied by good maps and illustrations.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brillaint account of the period., 3 Jun 2013
This review is from: The Sugar Barons (Paperback)
It isn't generally known how important the Caribbean, and Barbados in particular, was in the history of the British Empire. This book makes it very clear. Plenty of illustrations to back it up. A must read for anyone interested in going there for any length of time.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Sugar Barons, 29 Oct 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Sugar Barons (Paperback)
This is the way history should be recorded and presented. It was listed for my Reading Circle and, as I'd spent many holidays in the West Indies, I thought it might be of special interest - and I was not disappointed. In mirror history, the European wars were fought out among the islands as individually they rose or fell with the fortunes of the Spanish, French, English, Portugese and the Dutch, cursed by terrible weather, harsh terrain, plague and successions of armies, not to mention the greed and exploitation of the barrons themselves. If only my history teacher had had such skills I would not have forsaken her subject too early for my O Levels, and my life might have been changed for ever!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sugar Barons, 17 Jun 2011
This review is from: The Sugar Barons (Hardcover)
I was gripped after the first chapter - it reads like a 19th century novel full of saga, wealth, family & fortunes that rise and fall. Set in the stifling atmosphere of heat, humidity and disease.
And yet, it's a piece of history, well told, thoroughly researched and fascinating. Can't wait for his next subject.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars good read, educational., 24 Jun 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Sugar Barons (Paperback)
being of irish parentage this book is
very interesting. easy to read also. knew cromwell was a monster but worse than i thought.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 25 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

The Sugar Barons
The Sugar Barons by Matthew Parker (Hardcover - 7 April 2011)
Used & New from: 6.81
Add to wishlist See buying options
Only search this product's reviews