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Spice: The History of a Temptation

3.58  ·  Rating Details ·  1,847 Ratings  ·  141 Reviews
A brilliant, original history of the spice trade--and the appetites that fueled it.

It was in search of the fabled Spice Islands and their cloves that Magellan charted the first circumnavigation of the globe. Vasco da Gama sailed the dangerous waters around Africa to India on a quest for Christians--and spices. Columbus sought gold and pepper but found the New World. By th
Paperback, 384 pages
Published August 9th 2005 by Vintage (first published August 2nd 2004)
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Oct 14, 2011 John rated it really liked it
This isn't really a history of spices, or the spice trade- rather it is about the taste for spices. It is also almost exclusively about Europe. That was a little different from what I had expected, but I did really enjoy the book. Turner doesn't really care about where the spices come from or how they got to Europe, what he wants to delve into is how Europeans felt about spices, what kinds of associations and properties were attributed to spices, and how those changed over time. How did a spice ...more
Dion Yulianto
May 28, 2012 Dion Yulianto rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tiga tahun lalu, saya membeli buku ini sebagai hadiah ulang tahun saya sendiri. Harganya cukup mahal kala itu (Rp110.000 dan tidak ada diskon), jauh melampau limit dramatis saya yang hanya Rp80.000 perbuku. Tapi, sesekali nggak apa-apa deh toh buat ulang tahun juga (belinya pakai voucer Gramedia pulak *jitak*). Butuh tiga tahun menyelesaikannya, dan setelah membaca habis buku ini, uang Rp110.000 sungguh tidak ada apa-apanya jika dibandingkan dengan tenaga dan dana yang dikeluarkan oleh penulis u ...more
Jun 21, 2011 Jen rated it it was ok
I desperately wanted this book to be better. I wanted to engross myself in the history of spices and find out how we started using them and why.

Unfortunately, although I'm sure the information is somewhere in there, it's so badly organized I'm not sure I could find it.

The timeline jumps around so dramatically that it's almost impossible to keep up. You start off in with Christopher Columbus, now you're in Rome, nope you're in the Middle Ages, nope now you're in ancient Egypt, nope now you're in
Antun Karlovac
Oct 12, 2011 Antun Karlovac rated it did not like it
Maybe I'm judging this book too much by its title. If the title was "An Inquiry Into the History and Uses of Spices and their Impact on Human Development Trade", I would not have rated it so poorly. But then I probably wouldn't have picked it up either.

However because the title is "Spice: The History of a Temptation", I expected a microhistory. Like "Salt", "Cod", "Gunpowder", etc. I expected a book that's fast-paced, packed with information that flows easily, and is critically edited. But that'
I really wanted to like this book because I think the history of commodities (their production, trade, and use) is interesting, but I just couldn't get my heart into this book. The book is rife with really interesting facts (such as how pepper used to be a sign of wealth until it became widely available and a different set of spices became the new sign of wealth) and does a nice job cataloguing the development of the spice trade, but suffers from how these facts and stories are organized. This b ...more
Oct 09, 2008 Danceswithwords rated it it was ok
I found this book disappointing for a couple of different reasons. Spices are, unlike salt, not strictly necessary; they're a luxury good. Turner's discussion of the ancient spice trade was the most interesting part of the book for me, because he dug into the intersection of luxury trade and political economy and the way markets in goods like spices established trade routes between east and west over what was, at the time, staggering distances. But by the time he gets to the medieval spice trade ...more
Jun 10, 2013 Amanda rated it really liked it
As traders of the old world charted new territory in their quest for spices, Turner explores the reasons why spice ruled both the imagination and the economy for centuries in a heretofore unheard of depth. From pragmatic to mystic, each narrative gives an engrossing tale of how each spice held its power, and its price, as well as how spice’s reign came to an end. The multitude of facts and anecdotes is one of the best facets of Turner’s book; however, the best thing about this book is also the w ...more
Kirsti (Melbourne on my mind)
3.5 stars.

A fascinating if slightly wordy history of the use of spices from the ancient world to the eighteenth century. The book is broken up really nicely - it starts out with a discussion of the European expeditions to the east Indies and the establishment of the Dutch East India Company.

The remainder of the book is divided into three sections: Palate, Body, and Spirit. The first focuses on the use of spices in food, from the Roman Empire through Medieval Europe. The second examines the use
Sep 28, 2011 Amanda rated it liked it
This was more like a 2.5. Turner writes well, but writes immensely long chapters. Reads much like a history thesis gone on, and on, and on, it is so comprehensive and rooted in primary sources. His thesis was a little odd, too, and I don't quite think he succeeded in parsing the desire that drove most of Western Europe spice-crazy, as he intended to do. But he was close. Dense and interesting, but long.
Dec 26, 2007 erik rated it liked it

I loved the first half of the book, which was focused on exploration and the spice trade. The second half seemed to drag on and on with tales and details that were less compelling to me. I often find this to be the case in this type of nonfiction, so there's a good chance that my attention span is to blame, not the author.
Bookmarks Magazine

Critics agree that Turner knows his spices. In this first book, he proves himself a skillful researcher, as comfortable with medieval resources as he is with electronic ones. For many, Turner's wide knowledge and his flair for the anecdote

Jenifer Perry
Nov 12, 2010 Jenifer Perry rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Fascinating history of spices. I had to stop reading about 2/3 of the way through because I just wanted to eat peppercorns every time I picked up the book.
Marie Flanigan
Dec 28, 2009 Marie Flanigan rated it liked it
Shelves: cooking, history
Fascinating subject, uneven writing. Parts of this book are very readable and super interesting. Other parts lag and get bogged down, which is too bad because it's a riveting topic.
Sajith Kumar
Sep 22, 2015 Sajith Kumar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
From time immemorial man went in search of taste. Appeal to the palate was his prime motive in scouring the face of the planet and coming up with spices that attribute a strong flavor to food. The origins of spices are shrouded in mystery, but equally amazing is its discovery. Even before navigational aids and maps came along, ancient man found out that pepper grows only on the Malabar Coast of India, cinnamon in Sri Lanka alone and nutmeg on the Tidor and Tarnate islands of the Indonesian archi ...more
WOW. As I started selecting the categories that would apply to this work, I realised how much pungent information is contained within its pages. History, exploration, food, alchemy, sex, adventurers, science, medicine, cooking, culinary history, economics, ships, politics, travel, literature--the list is endless, which confirms the thoughts that came to mind as I read it--the amount of information in this volume is absolutely amazing. It is such a compendium of information about spice (and every ...more
Jun 08, 2017 Iset rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have to say I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. I picked it up mainly because right now I am attempting to clear out my to-be-read list somewhat and trying to cross off everything that I think will be of lesser interest to me (in comparison to other books on my list). I am a historian, and I do like spices, so I knew I wasn’t picking up something I would dislike, but even so I expected it to be more of a ‘okay let’s get this vaguely interesting read done, shall we’ sort of a ...more
Nastiti Alfa

Sangat informatif dan, yang terpenting, NGEHE. Kocak, witty, dan penuh elaborasi yang sangat menghibur. Elaborasinya terkesan trivial banget, seolah penting nggak penting, tapi mekanisme elaborasinya sangat runtut. Buku ini tentang sejarah rempah. SECARA HARFIAH, tentang rempah. Kadang bisa bikin ketawa, tapi yang terpenting banyak bagian yang bisa bikin kita semakin paham mengapa rempah pada zaman segitu sangat diagungkan.
Alyson Walls
Mar 20, 2017 Alyson Walls rated it liked it
Not impressed. Got way too bogged down and read more like a grueling research paper at least until about 1/4 way from the end, when, apparently even the author was bored and desperate to wrap it up.
Andrew Dale
Jun 26, 2013 Andrew Dale rated it really liked it
Spice is an extremely well-researched book covering the origins and uses of spices in European civilization, from classical times through the modern day.

To a large extent, the book is focused on those periods for which source material is the greatest. This means that most of the content is focused on the various ancient and medieval applications of spices to culinary, medical and aphrodisiac purposes. This includes a large selection of Latin-language primary sources explaining the use of the Hip
Feb 17, 2014 Lisbeth rated it liked it
This has been a slow, quiet day and I did not feel like doing anything more than read. After lunch (sushi) and being a sunny day I ventured outside to finish off Spices, with a cup of coffee and a wafer. Turned out to be rather windy though, so had to go inside after finishing the coffee. Well, the sofa in the living room, on which the sun was shining seemed like a good alternative.

I have read this book for quite some time. All in all it is an interesting book. The beginning was really exciting
Jure Brkinjač
Feb 02, 2016 Jure Brkinjač rated it liked it
Well, this was a struggle... I was really drawn to the idea of this book and I really enjoyed the early parts about the origins of the spice trade, and how these fragrant things grown on only a few small islands in Asia came to dominate so much of world trade, culture, and, of course, cuisine.

A very good argument can be made that the world as we know today is the way it is because of spices.

In the early days, no one in the spice supply chain knew the big picture. Spices grew in select locations
Joanie Sompayrac
Apr 13, 2015 Joanie Sompayrac rated it liked it
Jack Turner has degrees in Classical Studies and International Relations, and he has written this book about the history of spice. I am not sure what I expected when I bought this book, but I certainly was not expecting his opening: When his then fifth grade teacher back in his native Australia asked the class WHY Columbus and his chums went cavorting off to find new lands and people, she told them it was because "the medieval Europeans had been afflicted with truly appalling food, necessitating ...more
I really wanted to love this, I find historical enquiries into a very particular but everyday subject fascinating and have lived Colour and Jewel by Victoria Finlay, so I had high hopes for this but it just didn't happen for me. The way the book is organised seemed wilfully awkward and had it been done with a section detailing the history of each main spice individually (cloves, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon & mace perhaps?) with trade, uses, popularity, social commentary I would have felt I was ...more
Jun 12, 2011 Stormy rated it liked it
The book is too long. There's a 25+ page intro. Learned a lot from that. Found the 309 pages of the story much more than I wanted to know. Did learn a lot more about where on a plant or a tree some spices came from. Now enjoy a chef's presentation more!

Just after finishing the book, came across an ex Peace Corps Volunteer's work in Afghanistan helping create a local successful business with all the necessary "spice" parts available locally to create a perfumed soap product that is well sought af
May 18, 2012 Truly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Coba simak teka-teki berikut ini:

Aku hitam, diselimuti oleh keriput
Namun di dalam, sumsumku terbakar
Aku penikmat hidangan perjamuan para raja dan kemewahan di atas meja
Baik saus dan daging empuk di dapur
Namun kau tak akan temukan kualitas yang bernilai dalam diriku
Kecuali bila isi perutmu telah berderik oleh nyalang sumsumku

Tahu jawabannya?
Yang betul.... LADA

Siapa yang mengiri limpahan rempah di tanah air membuat kita menjadi sasaran penjajahan.

Rempah memang barang mahal, konon para suami dengan
Beth Barnett
...more reading in food history. Turner's book discusses the place of spices in Western history during the time of the spice trade. The book is organized by theme rather than by a timeline alone. He discusses spice and its role in exploration, trade, class, cuisine/diet, medicine, sexual attitudes, and religion. Not all chapters are equally compelling, but as a whole the book is an interesting addition to my library of food history. I do feel a bit let down that the book leaves out a large part ...more
Nov 06, 2009 Sara rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
I expected this to be a microhistory in the vein of Salt: A World History and Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, not an actual deep dive into how spice has affected human trade routes throughout history. And it felt disorganized but really wasn't, just organized in what to me felt like a really counterintuitive way, even within the divisions of how spices were used or whatever. So I was overall disappointed but most of that's really on me not the book.
Feb 14, 2016 Kim rated it it was ok
Shelves: historial-curios
A bit long, plodding at points, and repetitious. I can say I've learned more about the history of spices for having read it, though, so that counts for something. And I've learned quite a few new vocabulary words.

Overall, though, this book felt like an essay that was stretched entirely too thin to be a book, and the coverage of the material uneven. If it had been a history of cinnamon or clove, perhaps, it would have covered the story from start to finish. Alas, it mentions several spices I've
Rk Stark
May 15, 2015 Rk Stark rated it really liked it
While this micro history is structured in a slightly confusing way, I enjoyed learning about how spice was a part of everyday life for much of history in the Western World. One of the only history of spices books that discussed spices in the ancient world, I learned a lot I didn't know. I also enjoyed looking at spice from not just a cooking and wealth status, but also religious and health. A good read, if a bit of a slog towards the end. I enjoyed reading this micro history and would recommend ...more
Dec 18, 2007 Keith rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in history
Jack Turner’s book is a broad sweep through the known history of spices from ancient usage to modern behaviours. It has a wealth of detail and many interesting facts and anecdotes surrounding the different aspects of spices. The book examines spices changing roles in food, religion, health and as a luxury throughout the ages. It also covers how spice drove exploration awhile commenting on the prevailing opinions about such trade at the time. It is dense and full of sources from many different pe ...more
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