6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing a new perspective to our history
After a recent visit to Antigua, I became interested in Carribbean history and heard about Bittersweet on the Book Show (Sky Arts 2). I am not a great reader of non-fiction and even less of history, but I just couldn't put this book down. I thought I knew about slavery, but the history of human degradation (both slave and master) connected to the sugar plantations took...
Published on 16 Jun 2011 by Roundpeg
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
Just finished reading this book and was it a struggle. Many of the facts were new and interesting but equally, many were well known. Despite the impressive list of notes and bibliography, the author seems to zero in on the same examples/case studies throughout a section implying that these examples are the sole products of her research in that area. She is obviously a...
Published on 24 Sep 2011 by A. C. Goodbody
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing a new perspective to our history,
This review is from: Sugar: A Bittersweet History (Paperback)After a recent visit to Antigua, I became interested in Carribbean history and heard about Bittersweet on the Book Show (Sky Arts 2). I am not a great reader of non-fiction and even less of history, but I just couldn't put this book down. I thought I knew about slavery, but the history of human degradation (both slave and master) connected to the sugar plantations took my breath away. Many of the quotes and anecdotes were coming from my British ancestors. I kept reading in the hope that things would get better, but unfortunately it seems that sugar and forced labour are hopelessly interwined. Humans counted only in terms of their economic value, much in the way factory farmed animals count today.
Elizabeth Abbott offers a fascinating insight into how sugar has shaped our environment, economic system, consumerism and lifestyle. I had no idea how influential the sugar industry has been on so many aspects of culture and heritage.
I would have liked more information on the part sugar plays in our society today and how it has affected our health. Maybe this will be the sequel.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing,
This review is from: Sugar: A Bittersweet History (Paperback)Just finished reading this book and was it a struggle. Many of the facts were new and interesting but equally, many were well known. Despite the impressive list of notes and bibliography, the author seems to zero in on the same examples/case studies throughout a section implying that these examples are the sole products of her research in that area. She is obviously a person on a mission (no harm in that) highlighting the effect that sugar growing had and continues to have, on disadvantaged workers/slaves. However, the last section covering 20th century sugar growing and use seems to have been rushed and not too deeply researched -- almost like she had had enough of the subject.
I also found her style a bit heavy going but maybe it was just too acedemic for my taste. All in all, a bit of a disappointment as sugar does represent a major health issue and has a very corrupt history which still isn't over.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing account of genocide on a global scale,
This review is from: Sugar: A Bittersweet History (Paperback)This is a riveting account of a substance so successfully branded and marketed as being 'natural' and 'pure' that almost no questions are asked about the methods of production. Yet the history of sugar is mired in the worst excesses of mercantilism and colonialism. In the Caribbean region alone, the number of slaves involved in sugar production ran into many millions. They had only to remain productive for about three years for the plantation owners to make a profit on their 'investment'. Given the eighteen or twenty hour working days, inadequate or barely edible 'food', the mosquitoes, disease, insanitary living conditions, lack of health care, routine floggings, and other (worse) abuses and 'punishments', that these poor people endured, that they lasted that long is quite incredible.
The major players were the usual suspects: Portugal, Spain, France, the Netherlands, the United States and ESPECIALLY, Britain. Imperial Britain made the other countries look like bungling amateurs when it came to slavery.
Nor did abuse end with the 'abolishment' of slavery: the all-powerful sugar companies (referred to as 'Big Sugar') and their tame government lackeys, simply reinvented the practise under indentured labour. The enslavement of people, in order to put sugar on the white man's table, continues to this day.
This book might have warranted 5 stars except for a short section in the final chapter. Ms Abbott, possibly looking for something good to say about sugar after almost 400 pages of documenting is utterly appalling history, offered ethanol from sugar as a possible alternative fuel to oil.
The first point in relation to this is that if the world's entire sugar crop (sugar cane and sugar beet combined) were used for ethanol production, it would deliver only THREE PERCENT of the energy currently provided by oil. And as already pointed out by Ms Abbott (and also the World Wildlife Fund) sugar production has probably caused more environmental destruction than any other crop ever grown.
Also the energy return over energy invested (EROEI) figures provided require revision. While it is true that the EROEI for sugar cane is quite high (compared to other crops) at about 8.3:1, the opposite is true for sugar beet. Ms Abbott gives the figure as being the same for both crops, whereas the true figure for sugar beet is more like 2.25:1 (see link below for details)
This means that over forty percent of the energy yield of ethanol from sugar beet has to go into producing the fuel. The manufacture of road vehicles and development of a road infrastructure might use up most of what remained, leaving little or nothing for maintenance of the thing we call civilisation. Its a non-runner.
And any expansion of sugar cane production comes at the expense of food crops, soil fertility and/or forest ecosystems. So no, ethanol from sugar crops won't replace oil on any significant world scale.
I hope Ms Abbott is reading this as apart from that brief foray into fuel fantasies, this is an exceptionally good read. Maybe if there is an updated version, the final chapter could be re-written.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book..... I've got a different approach to sugar and I'm really glad I spent the time reading this,
This review is from: Sugar: A Bittersweet History (Hardcover)This book would appeal to many. It's an insightful acount of how sugar has got into everything you eat... you probably eat sugar or a sugar type substance in some food at least once a day. Just try and get away from it......
After reading this book, it's changed my approach to foods and sugar. Do you need it in your diet..... I think not (unless you do serious sports post training sessions). It is and should be classed as a luxury, not a common additiveto make food taste better. I've cut sugar out of my diet as much as possible after reading this book due to it's history and increasing my own understanding today's issues.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!,
This review is from: Sugar: A Bittersweet History (Paperback)Fascinating view of one of the most controversial products ever! The slave section is eye opening. Changed the way I look at sugar.
5.0 out of 5 stars Now it makes sense,
This review is from: Sugar A Bittersweet History (Kindle Edition)This is an academic, but nevertheless emotionally harrowing, account of the abuse of human beings to enrich the greedy. Of slavery. The details I read (and I am generally well-educated) were often unknown to me. The motivations, the slave routes, the torture, killings and depredations were shocking. No historical account of the treatment has reached me as this one has. And the continuing abuse was entirely fuelled by the sugar business and its interests, its influence on governments and their policies. The impotence of those who tried to combat sugar interests was terrible. British abolitionists, the introduction eventually of sugar beet in Europe and better technology ended slavery (officially) but this threw the workers into exiled poverty if they didn't accept terrible contracts as free men/women/children. Think of Haiti today and the impacts are still with us. While the majority were African in the Americas, there were Indians in Fiji and Islanders in Australia and others.
Add insult to injury - sugar replaced honey - and is not even good for us. But it was so very good for the producers. Tate and Lyle can still be heard today complaining of the competition from sugar beet. What was a European luxury product eventually needed a larger market, forcing its way through the middle classes with their high and low teas and into the workman's cuppa.
This is a must-read for anyone interested in slavery but also for those who are seeking awareness of the behaviour or multi-nationals today, their ability to influence governments and populations and for just how long all this has been going on. When will they be called to account?
14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb history but with gaping omissions,
This review is from: Sugar: A Bittersweet History (Paperback)In some ways this is a strange book. A good book, but a strange one.
No question, it merits its five stars, but I am troubled by its omissions.
You see, it's fine to style this as a history - a "bitter-sweet history" - book, but there seems to be a ludicrous apartheid of subject matter operating at the editorial level. It bears emphasis: This is a superbly well researched, broadly well organised bite at the history of sugar. Surely no one reading it can be left unmoved by its trenchant coverage of the slavery, misery and greed attending to the raising of cane (and beet). But...
Is it just me, or does anyone else notice (or care) that there is an almost total lack of any botanical or ecological information on the actual sugar plant itself? Outside of pages 12 and 13, a few brief paragraphs, some 400 odd pages whizz by without the author ever bothering to say what sugar actually is! No biochemical or botanical information gets a look-in. C'mon Liz, you devote whole chapters to elaborating the ways in which humans have busied themselves scoffing the stuff, but zilcho on why this peculiar member of the grass family should go to such pains to accumulate so much juicy sugary sap in the first place.
Call me weird, but I find it extraordinary that there was not one mention of the word 'photosynthesis' anywhere. I mean, the poor damn plant has gone to all this trouble to cook up carbohydrates using the most magical, intricate and fabulously complex biochemical conjuring trick known to science: an alarmingly basic cocktail of mere air, water, a little soil and sunlight and shazzzam! there's your sugar for you...and not there's not one word here even mentioning, let alone celebrating this virtuosity!
Ok,ok, you're rolling your eyeballs - this is a history book, and Liz didn't do any science beyond fifth grade or whatevah.... Fine, but just a few pages to flesh things out? Could the author not have talked to just one botanist? Luckily, if the reader should want to plug any gaps in this regard, there is Oliver Morton's monumentally wonderful book "Eating The Sun" to turn to (one of the best science books ever written, guaranteed).
Even if it does feel as if the author ran out of steam towards the end of this admirable sweep of sugary history, she does get it precisely right with her closing comments. And it is such a ferocious litany of human depravity and cruelty, the growing of sugar cane over the last four hundred years, that it's difficult to imagine how anyone could sum it all up.
But here's my parting question : Just where the HELL was the christian church during all those centuries of slavery and avarice, A.D. 1500 to 1800 odd? Preaching, sitting on their hands, mumbling, farting - that's where! There was no pope, nor bishop, nor cardinal who could find it in their purple hearts to proscribe slavery, not when there were fat back-handers to be copped off guilt-ridden slave-merchants. Lots of gold and silver altar trinkets to procure, y'see. You understand, don't you?
2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A disappointment,
This review is from: Sugar A Bittersweet History (Kindle Edition)Sugar is a very old, important, world wide used, food. Something you would like to know more about. Sugar: by E. Abbott adds no knowledge, and what is even worse, is often very incorrect. It is a one sided, emotional , not supported by facts, story, about slavery, poor indians, the bad Spanish, and so on.
Abbott makes a sticky mess out of a very interesting subject.
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Sugar: A Bittersweet History by Elizabeth Abbott (Paperback - 11 Nov 2010)