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The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies

3.85  ·  Rating Details  ·  330 Ratings  ·  73 Reviews
To those who travel there today, the West Indies are unspoiled paradise islands. Yet that image conceals a turbulent, dramatic, and shocking history. For some two hundred years after 1650, the West Indies became the strategic center of the Western world, witnessing one of the greatest power struggles of the age as Europeans made and lost immense fortunes growing and tradin ...more
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Published August 16th 2011 by Tantor Media (first published April 1st 2011)
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Apr 18, 2014 Caroline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english-history
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
Jul 15, 2014 Hudson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Matthew Parker’s The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies is a fine narrative on the nature of British imperialism in the Caribbean and North America. This historical epoch, despite our mythology, had much less to do with religious tolerance and political liberty than it did with greed and exploitation. Some things never change.
Joshua Rigsby
Jul 02, 2015 Joshua Rigsby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: research, history
Every wound the human race has inflicted upon itself: colonialism, slavery, rape, murder, torture, venereal disease, theft, war, sedition, genocide, binge drinking, binge eating, exorbitant wealth, violent poverty, forced self-cannibalism, piracy, sloth, deception, treason, and abuse of every conceivable color are found with suffocating thickness throughout the history of the West Indies.

After reading Parker's account, it's hard to believe that there was any place on earth worse than the Caribb
George Roper
Oct 04, 2014 George Roper rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 24, 2014 Alistair rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Victoria JS
May 06, 2013 Victoria JS rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From the moment I saw this on the shelf at the bookstore I knew it would present a fantastic read. I wasn't disappointed. It serves to confirm what I have believed for some time - that the British Empire was built on greed, self-aggrandisement and the abuse, misery and suffering of others.
A fascinating history which I lent to a friend who promptly read within the week. Unputdownable.
Nov 02, 2015 Martin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An adequate history of the West Indies’ sugar plantations, their rise and fall, and their importance in gaining wealth for the overall British Empire as the central focus of the rum-sugar-slave trade. My only real problem with the book was that it was a very well-researched but strictly factual transmission of information. I do appreciate a historian’s voice occasionally making a wry interpretation. (We’re so spoiled with the plethora of great historians at the moment – it’s no longer good enoug ...more
Aug 07, 2015 Matthew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good book, I learned a lot. While it obviously focused mostly on the West Indies, it did a good job of integrating that history into a global context by showing how the New England colonies and England interacting with them. This history is really another example of how there probably wouldnt be a United States if it wasnt for slavery since New England was heavily reliant on the West Indies trade and slave trade. The US would certainly not have had any sort of urban society or cities by the 1770 ...more
Charles Berteau
Jul 04, 2014 Charles Berteau rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 31, 2014 Debbie Boucher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 18, 2016 Jenny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars really. I enjoyed this fascinating book and learnt a lot.
Martin Hogan
May 29, 2013 Martin Hogan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
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.
Sep 30, 2014 Nick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
The Sugar Barons is a detailed history of the British West Indies (Caribbean) and how the islands developed (or lack thereof) under the sugar industry. Following the great Caribbean families like the Draxes who started a veritable industrial revolution that made sugar plantations viable and achieve a splendor of the great English manors while riding the backs of slaves from Africa . Parker does a great job of presenting in a clear and well thought out manner the effects of slavery on the islands ...more
Sep 13, 2014 Kamil rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 27, 2016 Karry rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This history of the West Indian sugar trade during the 16th century and following would have been a delight if the author and editors would have taken the time to organize it better. As it reads, it is so convoluted and strung out that even the most ardent reader would have been frustrated by the end. I learned some very interesting facts, for example more people in the continental army during the American Revolution died of smallpox than were killed by the British...I KNEW it disease was viciou ...more
J.P. Lane
Apr 20, 2014 J.P. Lane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Susan Steed
Jul 27, 2015 Susan Steed rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing book. It tells the story of the British in the West Indies. It focuses on three families - the ‘Sugar Baron’s. A big part of that story is the Slave Trade. And it’s horrific and brutal. And colonisalism and War. It is also a tale of British History and how parliamentary battles in London played out in the West Indies.

This book starts before the slave trade. With mass emigration from England around the time of the civil war. And life for people at that time was pretty grim, one third of a
I am glad that I listened to this on CD because I doubt I would have waded through it in print. The book covers the development of the sugar industry and the institutionalization of slavery in several Caribbean Islands from 1650 to 1834 (when slavery was outlawed in Britain and its colonies). The point of view is British, and I found particularly interesting – I am not sure I have ever read a book about slavery in the western world from the British perspective. My knowledge of the history of the ...more
Jan 05, 2015 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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
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 it was ok
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
Casey Mahon
Oct 27, 2015 Casey Mahon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very enlightening book about the history and turmoil associated with Sugar production. The importance of these Islands to England cannot be overestimated. The course of the Revolutionary War was decided more because of the threat posed to the Sugar Islands than any military action in America. The chapters on the campaign to end Slavery in the islands are very instructive for a long term political effort to completely change a cultural and economic norm.

Feb 06, 2012 Silverdrake rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 15, 2016 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
audiobook - The book is of course about sugar's rise and fall in wealth creation and economic importance and Britain's slave trading and exploitation. But, the book's long time frame allows a glimpse at other, more well know episodes in history; the French and Indian war, the American Revolution, and the relationship between the North American colonies and the Caribbean sugar plantations. It also gives a glimpse into how a mother country treats it's colonies and changes the rules for the colonie ...more
Jan 29, 2013 Doug rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 14, 2013 Clara Mazzi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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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,
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