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The Sugar Barons

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  194 ratings  ·  52 reviews
The contemporary image of the West Indies as paradise islands conceals a turbulent, dramatic and shocking history. For 200 years after 1650, the West Indies witnessed one of the greatest power struggles of the age, as Europeans made and lost immense fortunes growing and trading in sugar - a commodity so lucrative that it was known as white gold. This compelling book tells ...more
Hardcover, 446 pages
Published April 1st 2011 by Hutchinson Radius
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I could never have thought I would find myself so engrossed in a history of sugar production in the British West Indies, ie. Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua etc. I could hardly put this book down. In the wrong hands this could have been an immensely dull and dry scholarly work, but Parker writes with real flair, populating his narrative with colourful figures, both sympathetic and abhorrent. Pirates, slaves, merchants, traders, plantation owners, politicians, rebels, soldiers and sailors, they're all ...more
This is a great book that I would recommend to any fan of history. Parker like all great history writers is able to basically tell a story along with providing the hard facts and dates. I was really amazed to see how involved Boston MA and Newport RI were in the slave trade at the time, slave money practically built Newport it seems! It was also interesting to see the role that sugar played in the American Revolution. Basically ultra rich planters from the Indies started sending all their men to ...more
Helen Hanschell Pollock
Bridget Brereton Deputy Principal of the University of the West Indies, in a review of this book writes"the book belongs to an older tradition of writing West Indian histories, the tradition that was dominant up to the 1950s, before the “decolonisation” of Caribbean historiography. This older school had no doubt that the creators of Caribbean history were Europeans. These were the men (hardly ever women) who “founded her [England’s] colonies, fought her battles, covered the ocean with commerce, ...more
In south dorset past stonehenge i have often driven past a landed estate with a wall which seems to go on four miles and miles and the estate seems to belong to the Drax family . It has a suitable iron gate with lions or some such animal perched on the pillars . in Oxford there is a library set up by the will of Christopher Codrington at All Soul's College which contains a collection only secondary to the Bodleian . Fonthill Abbey was built by William Beckford in the 18th century after his fathe ...more
Charles Berteau
Review carried forward from "I'm Reading"

This book is a very readable history of the British West Indies, and the rise and decline of the sugar empires, built by dynamic men in the face of war, disease, and weather - but built on the human tragedy of industrial-scale and brutal slavery. I knew obliquely of the predominance of sugar during England's colonial/mercantilist era (not least because of the contribution of the Sugar Act to the turning of the North American colonies against England), and
Debbie Boucher
The Sugar Barons is a fascinating account of "white gold" in the Caribbean. Living here in Trinidad and Tobago, a backwater and late-comer to the British Empire, I was inspired to read this account of life in Barbados, Jamaica and Antigua after a recent trip to Barbados. The history of this island, of the entire region actually, is appalling. The riches earned by the "Sugar Barons" was based on slave labor and its horrifying practice. This book is not for everyone, but I needed to read it to und ...more
This history of the West Indies is quite good, and my only issue with it is the length - it feels a little weird saying a 464 page book is too short, but here we are. Parker covers from the initial settlements down to about the fourth generation of decedents, which is where things start really falling apart (don't feel bad for them, they all had a ton of slaves). I guess this makes sense as a stopping point, both because the West Indies' time as an important player on the world stage is coming t ...more
This book is shocking. It's the history of the sugar industry in the West Indies, largely in Barbados. And as such is about the history of slavery. It details how what began as effectively enslavement of Irish indentured servants set up a culture where people became inured to cruelty and set the stage for the enslavement of people "imported" from Africa. It's very startling and ugly, but the roots of the world of today are here easily recognized. The number of workers needed to produce sugar mea ...more
A very detailed and informative account of the British sugar colonies in the West Indies, including the subsequent flourishing of the slave trade and the effect it had on the world.
Prior to reading this book, I was not aware that the region had such a powerful influence on the world as we know it today; from the demographics of the Americas to British culinary tastes that have since spread around the world. The author does a great job of illustrating this importance.
While the book sometimes get
J.P. Lane
Matthew Parker writes about the history of the sugar industry and the slave era in the West Indies in the kind of detail I've never seen before. Parker's detailed accounts of the birth and rise of an industry powerful enough to have influenced Great Britain's North American policy, and the men who shaped that industry, makes The Sugar Barons a captivating read. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in American or Caribbean history, or anyone curious to know why sugar was, at one time ...more
George Roper
In relation to the book, Sugar Barons, you can find an excellent synopsis at this link, which is a video of a presentation the author made at a literary festival - Write Idea - in 2011 :

The book Sugar Barons by Matthew Parker deals with the rise and fall of the pioneers of the British colonial slave plantation system which sought to capitalize on the home country's appetite for refined sugar, used in the 17th and 18th centuries to sweeten teas and the cul
Margaret Sankey
Matthew Parker traces the establishment of the British colonies of Jamaica and Barbados in the 17th century through a handful of families--Drax, Codrington, Lascelles, along with their Jacobean mansions unsuited to the climate, their deaths from malaria and yellow fever, their slaves and mixed-race children, indentured servants and maroons, the rotten boroughs they bought back in England, their schemes to marry into the landed gentry with big cash dowries, their ruthless suppression of slave rev ...more
Oct 03, 2011 Ray rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: historians with an interest in the Caribbean
"The Sugar Barons" is a detailed history of the islands of the Caribbean, focusing on the main British sugar plantation islands of Jamaica and Barbados. Unfortunately, I found myself spacing out, losing focus as well as interest for much of the time. The long personal descriptions of 17th century planters, their families, their homes, etc. just wasn't of much interest to me. I thought I might become more interested in the last 10% of the book, during the late 1700's as the United States began th ...more
I picked up this book hoping for some tidbits about the life of one of my ancestors, but discovered the way that sugar production changed the world: the huge impact it had on the European economy and trade, the slave trade and the abolitionist movement, and how protectionism in the Caribbean pushed the North American colonies toward the Revolution. If you haven't read much about slavery, The Sugar Barons will open your eyes to the horrific punishments and inhumane treatment that affect our socie ...more
Epic story, spanning the start of the sugar industry in Barbados in the mid-1600s, the expansion into Jamaica and other colonies, and finally the virtual collapse of the sugar barons.

Although the number of individuals and families was a bit overwhelming, I thought the writer did a great job of telling a comprehensive story without becoming too tedious. The chapters seemed to have very good themes, and I liked that they were relatively short and manageable.

I'm amazed at how much of our unique Am
Dustan Daniel
The earlier history was very insightful and I was previously unaware of all that transpired in the settling of Barbados and other islands. Overall I appreciated this book and feel much more knowledgeable about Britain's colonies in the Caribbean and Atlantic. It also helps you understand the perspective of American colonists.
Clara Mazzi
The Sugar Barons is a fascinating, pleasantly and well written, rich in documents and facts, teeming with peopole’s stories book - and since history is made by people, this aspect of the book is remarkably interesting and valuable. The author's passion for the subject is palpable and therefore is transmitted to the reader.

It has been a splendid chance for me to get to know more about the “other” British colonies: I’m a passionate reader about Asian colonies and was never really caught about the
I got bogged down in this book, but it was eye-opening and I made it through. It's all about the development of the sugar plantations in the Caribbean. After the beginning, the middle just seemed to go on and on and on about these sugar barons and how horrible life was in Barbados, Jamaica, etc. with huge sugar plantations, a growing slave trade, absolutely horrendous treatment of slaves, diseases that seemed to kill just about everyone, constant wars between the colonial powers (not to mention ...more
........on the backs of the enslaved the world benefited from the cultivation of sugar. from the 1500's europe tried to lasso the west indies archipelago for it's strategic location and harbors and beauty, in the quest to find a climate to grow first tobacco, then cotton and then what ultimately worked SUGAR. parker's book focuses on the british empire there in all it's decadence and greed with emphasis on barbados and jamaica. he portrays several families who monopolized the trade for profit on ...more
Listened to this on Audible. At times I thought it dragged (I had some trouble keeping up with the various oil baron scions) but I learned quite a bit about the atrocious conditions in the West Indies (especially for the poor slaves) during the Sugar boom. When the islands weren't ravaged by war, they were ravaged by disease. The Sugar Barons were the oil barons of their day (17th - 18th century). Those who survived and prospered wisely returned to England to enjoy their great wealth before dyin ...more
I listened to the audio of this book. I'm not sure I would have had the patience to read it. I learned a lot and found it an interesting history. Well written.
Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History was a better choice to get an overview of sugar. That being said, this book does delve into the history of the barons themselves and does it quite well, just want what i needed. May return to it, but that might be doubtful due to the specific focus.
David R.
Parker's subject is the rise and fall of the British sugar empire from the 1620s to 1830s, mostly on Barbados and Jamaica. It is a story of great wealth and the concomitant horrors of Caribbean slavery. The narrative work is very strong and well researched and the book reads briskly. Parker even weaves in incidentals of piracy, naval warfare, and the life of nouveau riche absentee sugar barons in England. The most remarkable takeaway is the utter corruption of the more notable players in the sug ...more
Tom Brennan
Fascinating treatment of a region and an industry in an era that defined part of what the Americas came to be. A must read for any serious amateur historian.
Philip Virta
An interesting history of sugar, its impact on the economy of the time and the people, many unwillingly, who produced it, and an history of the Caribbean islands. The author tied sugar cultivation to a number of different historical events and made a good attempt at showing how it impacted the course of history. The family histories of the "sugar barons" make for sordid, scandalous, sinister, and superb reading. It would make for quite the drama on stage or screen. If you're interested in histor ...more
A very interesting book capturing the true reason why Europe was more interested in Sugar than America.
Jintong Shi
Great book about the colonization and slavery of the West Indies.
Interesting and heartbreaking story of sugar and the slave trade in the West Indies and the effects of European politics and conflicts among other subjects. Worth reading.
Martin Hogan
I am writing this only halfway through reading all the pages.

I am appalled at the level of ultra-violence employed as a "lifestyle norm". The people featured are the builders of empire in North America. This West Indies culture transplanted itself in South Carolina to reinvigorate the profit-by-brutality business.

Jumping ahead on the political timeline, South Carolina can't escape it's past of empowering its history to positions of power.

My rant. The end.
Carl Mason
A comprehensive study of the sugar trade following the lives of the families and people involved, from the start to the -melancholy- end. A no-holds-barred examination of greed, class, death, excess and misery, played out in a hostile environment riven by criminality and war. Non-fiction, but written in an engaging fashion that reads almost like a novel, using contemporary accounts correlated with modern knowledge. A great read and well worth the effort.
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Conflict Action T...: Piracy: The Sugar Barons by Matthew Parker 1 3 Apr 04, 2013 05:42PM  
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I'm currently working on a new book, due to be published in August 2015, that tells the extraordinary story of Willoughbyland, the forgotten seventeenth-century English colony in Suriname that was exchanged with the Dutch for New York.

When not reading, writing or staring out of the window, I love making sushi, pubs, growing stuff and visiting remote places.

I'm a member of the Authors Cricket Club,
More about Matthew Parker...
Panama Fever: The Epic Story of One of the Greatest Human Achievements of All Time-- the Building of the Panama Canal Monte Cassino: The Hardest Fought Battle of World War II The Battle Of Britain June October 1940 Hell's Gorge: The Battle to Build the Panama Canal Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming in Jamaica

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