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Nathaniel's Nutmeg, or, The True And Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History

3.78  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,352 Ratings  ·  215 Reviews
A true tale of high adventure in the South Seas.
The tiny island of Run is an insignificant speck in the Indonesian archipelago. Just two miles long and half a mile wide, it is remote, tranquil, and, these days, largely ignored.
Yet 370 years ago, Run's harvest of nutmeg (a pound of which yielded a 3,200 percent profit by the time it arrived in England) turned it into the
Hardcover, 388 pages
Published May 12th 1999 by Farrar Straus Giroux (first published March 4th 1999)
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Adolf Sinaga The Island of Run/Roen/Roem is still inhabited with few local Bandanese and Bajaus. Its nothing of real importance nowadays. I must add that just few…moreThe Island of Run/Roen/Roem is still inhabited with few local Bandanese and Bajaus. Its nothing of real importance nowadays. I must add that just few meters from the beach, there are plenty of top notch snorkeling spots and more off coast for divers. (less)
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Dec 04, 2011 Kinga rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There was a time when people killed and died for nutmeg. Imagine that! Stinking nutmeg! Not even oregano or at least cinnamon. I must say on my list of things I would be willing to die for nutmeg is somewhere at the bottom, right before marmite.

Nonetheless, The Dutch and the English and the Portuguese would fight relentlessly over the access to nutmeg. Apart from successfully killing the smell and taste of rotten meat, nutmeg was also known for curing just about anything from the plague to impo
It was an interesting read. As other reviews have mentioned, this is a book one should not judge by their title. (Perhaps a better fit would have been The Dastardly Deeds of the Dutch versus the Entrepid English (pardon the typo, I'm a fan of alliteration)). Anyway, it was interesting. I'd like to think of other adjectives for it, but it was such an overwhelming collection of information. Surprisingly not very optimistic either, with a history of the failures of the English to develop a strongho ...more
I have spent a good part of my reading life finishing everything I start. I can count on one hand the number of books I've started and haven't finished. To my credit, I have been a librarian for a long time and rarely do I start something that I don't think I'll like. I read too many book reviews, spend too much time on Goodreads, and pay attention to things like book awards to just randomly pick up a book off the shelf and start it. So my 99% completion rate isn't exactly that surprising.
What i
Mar 23, 2009 Picoroco rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
What a ridiculous title; very little to do with Nathaniel (Courthope), and the use of the singular nutmeg just grates (if you excuse the pun).

That said, this is an interesting introduction to Western Europe's involvement in the global race to corner the spice market. Particular focus is given to the increasingly bitter and deadly rivalries of the 17th Century English and Dutch spice merchants as they vie for control of the remote archipelagos of Indonesia along with their precious crops of clov
I'm marginally ill today - mild fever, slight achiness, low energy - and because of that, I'm disappointed that I've already finished Giles Milton's Nathaniel's Nutmeg: or, the True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History. Because this, my friends, is my version of the perfect home-sick-from-work book. A true story (more or less), it nonetheless reads like an old-fashioned swashbuckler, complete with bravery, treachery, derring-do, clandestine dealings, be ...more
Oct 14, 2011 GoldGato rated it it was amazing
This was a book that snuck up and surprised me. Reaching into my collection abstractedly, perchance I hit upon this volume. I had no clue about the race for the Spice Islands or just how important spices were to Europe in the 17th century. This book details the history of spices, their importance, their cost, the explorers who dared to find them, and the wars that subsequently developed because of them.

"Have you a great care to receive such nutmegs as be good, for the smallest nutmegs be worth n
'Aussie Rick'
May 27, 2014 'Aussie Rick' rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history

This is an enjoyable book to read, easy to get into and hard to put down. I found the story of the Spice Trade to be quite interesting and that I suppose was a result of the hard work put in by the author. The story was fun, vibrant and quite blood-thirsty and all over a little 'nut'. This is good fun history and the story is well told. Well done to the author!
Philip Lane
I found this very disappointing for two reasons. I had previously read Samurai William which despite its flaws I had much enjoyed and the title and tag on the cover because this book does not live up to its cover. Nathaniel's is a very minor character in the book and Milton's hypothesis that his actions changed the course of history is not properly explored or supported by the book. It is obvious that a lot of research has been done and I did pick up a large number of curious facts and was intro ...more
Jun 01, 2008 Stefan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nathaniel’s Nutmeg was a highly readable, interesting, enlightening, and exciting read. It was extremely fascinating to read about the spice race in which a large number of ships and men were lost to war and illness all over a few small isolated and backwater islands in the South Pacific. The interesting stories of forgotten explorers, soldiers, and sailors in their quest to find spices and glory amidst the uncharted vastness of the region was quite amazing. I’d never read a book on this era bef ...more
Beth Cato
Apr 10, 2012 Beth Cato rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: in, history, 2009, nonfiction
The title of this is somewhat misleading; it's not simply Nathaniel Courthope's story, but that of various men over a century who fought and died over islands that don't even garner a mention on most contemporary maps.[return][return]The tiny island of Run is in the Indonesian archipelago. Five hundred years ago, that small cluster of volcanic islands was the only place in the world where one could find clover and nutmeg. And everyone wanted it - the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the En ...more
Bart Thanhauser

Nathaniel’s Nutmeg is about the battle for trade supremacy in the East Indies between the Dutch and English in the late 16th, early 17th century. The book focuses on the Banda Islands—a series of tiny islands in current day Maluku, which itself is an adaptation of the Portuguese word Moluccas meaning “spiceries”. This is essentially what the islands were for European merchants: spice plantations. With waves of the plague hitting Europe and the belief that nutmeg and mace were cure-alls,
Mar 19, 2015 Libby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food-and-drink
I love to read history. The most wonderful, improbable, intriguing stories are lurking in our history books, if we have the patience and wit to find them. Obviously, I think Giles Milton has found one of those fascinating, obscure true life adventures. Nathaniel Courthope really was an amazing heroic figure that time has consigned to forgotten dusty pages. He and the other swashbuckling characters of the East India trade are all but unknown today, but they swashed their way to creating the great ...more
Dec 30, 2008 Vanessa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
I do not normally read non-fiction, but my dad shoved this book into my hands after a recent visit and said "Read it" in hushed tones, as if this book contains all the hidden truths I could possibly need.

Written like fiction, it follows the start of the spice trade between Europe and the east Indian islands (Indonesia), the ultimate birth of the East India trading company and the many many battled fought over control over this area between the English, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese.
It took me a
Dave Mosher
Oct 22, 2009 Dave Mosher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not a history buff by any stretch? I'm not, but this book was fantastic.

It offers a fascinating glimpse into the spice race of late 1500s and early 1600s, and how relatively few sailors seeking riches and glory set the course of history around the world.

Full of detail and primary sources -- letters of tortured sailors, greedy merchants, out-of-touch bureaucrats, etc. -- yet shockingly approachable and impossible to put down at times.

As an added note, it's a must-read for any New Yorker who wants
Dec 19, 2015 melydia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's no denying this is a fascinating overview of the often bloody history of the spice trade in the 16th and 17th centuries, focusing largely on Run in the Banda Islands. I don't really agree with the premise, though, that a man who fought and failed to keep Run in the hands of the British had anything to do with the eventual acquisition of New Amsterdam. That said, the rest of the book is pretty gripping. There's a lot of "Yay for the English, Boo for the Dutch" going on, to the point where ...more
Jan 31, 2008 Gavin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The tale of the opening up of the Spice Islands of Indonesia. Very interesting and well written.
Apr 15, 2009 Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Extraordinary account of the spice trade and life aboard trading ships.
Ethicurean Reads
The book is about the 16th and 17th century race to the spice islands between the European powers, primarily England and Holland, but also Spain and Portugual.

The first part of this book is engrossing, thrilling, and shocking as Milton describes the early attempts to find routes from Europe to the sources of spices like nutmeg (which was supposedly a cure for the black plague), cloves, and cinnamon. Most of these spices were exclusively grown on tiny islands that make up part of modern-day Indo
Nov 28, 2014 Pavel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Spice Islands. I've have been there few years ago. A wonderful place ! I can only tell you that If I've read this book before travelling...probably I would have to think of a different destination. This book is not the one that will inspire you to re-discover the islands turbulent and violent times, when nutmeg was more expensive than gold and when the most powerful kingdoms sent numerous battleships to protect or take over those tiny islands.
You can't follow the story because there isn't one!
Aug 22, 2012 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A delightful history of the early history of the South East Asia spice trade in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Milton uses texts from the British and Dutch East India Trading companies to bring alive the heroic and villainous traders, captains, crew-members, and natives in what was an extremely dangerous part of the world at the time.

The book focuses on the Banda Islands, home of the world's only nutmeg trees in this period. Milton interweaves the exciting tales of various voyages and
Dana Clinton
A non-fiction read that jumped out at me from my piles of unread books, and I decided to plunge in. It was a fairly difficult read, although I did learn a great deal about some history I frankly had almost no knowledge of. I had heard of the important trade in spices centuries ago... nutmeg, cloves, pepper even, and how incredibly valuable they were. But now I suspect I know more than I really wanted to! Most of this historical presentation is set in the late 1500's to about 1650, when their was ...more
Mark Balcombe
Jul 10, 2014 Mark Balcombe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a brilliant action packed book. As an investigative news journalist this sort of book is where it’s at for me. Plus – people - we are talking about 300 to 400 years ago! It’s so easy to knock these traders and merchants and their jingoism but there is no way I am going join in. It’s so politically correct to be anti what these people were about. People that do that completely miss the point of this book. I think they (and that includes the Dutch) were incredibly brave on these one, two year ...more
Heather Dorsey
Jan 02, 2016 Heather Dorsey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Spice loving cooks and Teachers of World & US History
Recommended to Heather by: I found it in the local public library
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mike Maurer
Sep 23, 2015 Mike Maurer rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
At a time during the later part of queen Elizabeth's reign, the English and Dutch were in the midst of a spice race. Nutmeg was one of the highly prized spices, as it grew only on a few islands and the apothecaries said it would cure plague. The center is the story of two companies whose charter is to grab as much of the prized spices and bring it back to Europe for huge markups.

The book is very English centric. They are benevolent and ethical. The Dutch are evil, using torture and bully tactics
Martin Boyle
Sep 01, 2015 Martin Boyle rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviews
I guess this could also be called, another chronicle of heroic British failure! Poor old Nathaniel appears a couple of hundred pages in and has a mission doomed to failure that lasts, perhaps, 50 pages. And in this he follows a list of his countrymen, all after the untold wealth that success might bring - to them, to their masters, to their backers.

This is serviceable popular history, reasonably well written, but inclined to any and every little diversion. Its weakness is just here: a feeling of
Feb 18, 2014 Dermo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A rambling, ramshackle tale, based ostensibly around the siege of Run 1616-1621 which was commanded by the eponymous Nathaniel. I was more interested in what Nathaniel was doing before he went to Run, however, there is very little information about that (I assume little is known).
The siege of Run takes up quite a small part of the book towards the end. The rest is a collection of loosely connected tales of exploration, featuring a number of colourful characters. The overall theme is a jingoisti
Jun 04, 2015 Torgo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating book about a little section of history that I knew very little about.
In the early 1600's basically the whole of europe's economy was running on this limited resource of spice: nutmeg, cloves and the like were available in a tiny part of south-east asia (near modern day papua new guinea) and at the time this precious resource was more valuable than gold. Similar to the modern day space race (or "spice race"), all of the developed nations were investing huge resources to finance dang
Feb 23, 2015 Joel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Have you heard of the Island of Run? Neither had I. In fact this most insignificant island of the Banda archipelago – 1.9 miles by .65 miles – often doesn’t even make it onto modern maps of the region. Nevertheless, for much of the 16th and 17th centuries this tiny atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean captivated the popular imagination and inspired the imperial avarice of the four great powers of that period.

This was the period of the Spice Wars; when the British, the Portuguese and the Dutc
May 19, 2013 Cam rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Like a lot of these obscure topic or single topic history books, it takes a nice idea for a lecture or maybe an article and enlarges it too much to fit the book length. Basic concept - British lose colonial rivalry with Dutch in what became Indonesia, but gain New Netherlands in N.A. because of one treaty that swaps it for an island in the South Pacific. There, I think I just wrote the book!
Muhammad Abdul
Feb 10, 2016 Muhammad Abdul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read this book in Indonesia translation "Pulau Run" or Run Island. This book make me realized that EIC or East Indies Company have though competition with VOC or Dutch East Company in 17 century... Poor EIC, they didn't had good start like VOC who can control Banda Island (AI, Run, and many several island of Nutmeg) and become richest company in 18 century (and bankrupt because corruption)...
This book very good to reader who want know EIC in Indonesia like when they starting office in Ban
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British writer and journalist Giles Milton was born in Buckinghamshire in 1966. He has contributed articles for most of the British national newspapers as well as many foreign publications, and specializes in the history of travel and exploration. In the course of his researches, he has traveled extensively in Europe, the Middle East, Japan and the Far East, and the Americas.

Knowledgeable, insati
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“In the Banda Islands, ten pounds of nutmeg cost less than one English penny. In London, that same spice sold for more than £2.10s. – a mark-up of a staggering 60,000 per cent. A small sackful was enough to set a man up for life, buying him a gabled dwelling in Holborn and a servant to attend to his needs” 3 likes
“merchants who financed this expedition viewed it as a reconnaissance mission rather than a trading venture and little cargo was loaded on board the ships. Instead, all available space was converted into living space for the large number of men on board, a necessary feature of long voyages into the unknown. Many would die on the outward trip and for those that survived there was a cornucopia of tropical diseases awaiting them on their arrival in the East” 2 likes
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