Spice: The History of a Temptation
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Spice: The History of a Temptation

3.51 of 5 stars 3.51  ·  rating details  ·  1,092 ratings  ·  95 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...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published August 9th 2005 by Vintage (first published August 2nd 2004)
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John
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
Danceswithwords
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
Mike
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
Jen
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...more
Amanda
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
Amanda
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.
erik

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

Marie Flanigan
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.
Jenifer Perry
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.
Andrew Dale
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...more
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
Truly
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...more
Stormy
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...more
Bruce
The preponderance of this book is a history of spices in Ancient and Medieval times. The author apprises us that spices have been used by mankind since before written history. Until the modern era they were considered luxury items and/or medicine. It wasn't until the last century that spices came to be common place in Western kitchens. Overall an interesting read.
Antun Karlovac
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'...more
Nancy
Any comment that I make about spices is going to be trite. Their aromas are heady. Cooking with them is fun even exhilarating. Their histories are surprising... particularly when you learn how very far back in human history they appear in areas far, far away from the lands of their origins. The drive for their acquisition has influenced history in very significant ways. I really, really wanted to love this book.

Sadly, for me, it is a slog. I began reading it months ago. I pick it up, read it for...more
Keith Frampton
Dec 18, 2007 Keith Frampton rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Rex Michael
There were some interesting bits of history, and Jack Turner has a certain flair in his writing and great command of English vocabulary, (I actually had look up at least a dozen descriptive words!) But there were also sections that were a bit tedious. Even so, this history of the spice trade to the west was worth the time it took to read it. Were I to compile a 'Reader' for a history class, there would certainly be excerpts from this book that I would include. It is interesting to me that the un...more
Tim
Super interesting and super dense. Definitely going to have to go through this again with a highlighter for future inspiration, there were just so many fantastical lines/beliefs/stories. The writing and commentary was clever without being artificially witty; history could stand on its own. One criticism is that though the chapters were organized by period (Antiquity, Medieval, Renaissance, etc.) the paragraphs and even sentences could jump around between countries and centuries, making more loca...more
Venessa
14 August 2007
It took me ages to read this book, even skipping some sections on Christianity and spices and skimming the epilogue. Not that it wasn't interesting; it just takes me a long time to read some books, non-fiction especially, and this was one of them. Turner divided the book into four sections: "The Spice Race," "Palate," "Body," and "Spirit;" "Body" was my favorite, and "Spirit" my least favorite. The title of the book pretty much sums up what it is about, so if you're wanting to read...more
Mary Anne
As a history book, this is competently written, but not wildly exciting. I am on my second attempt at reading this, however, and may give up for good this time. It's a little on the dry side, although not the dullest pop-history book I've ever read. It's getting better, but still could do with more personal stories to liven it up. At about the half-way point, I'm giving up. Most of the history is stuff I've read/picked up elsewhere, just re-arranged, in a okay format but I have a ton of other th...more
Tommy
Very good eye opening read
Rebecca Angel
Interested read, not riveting. Recommend it for a new angle on history- the spice trade.
Jae
sometimes fascinating, sometimes incredibly tedious survey of the uses, meaning, and provision of spices (mostly pepper, cloves and nutmeg) in ancient Greece, Rome and Medieval Europe. the chapters on the incredible journeys taken in the search for spices and their eventual decline from favor as magical and potent offerings were the most compelling. the lengthy catalogues of their uses in medicine, as aphrodisiacs, in cuisine and social rituals, not so much.
Pete
The book explores the history of the spice trade around the world and how it impacted work affairs. There is a lot of interesting information, and I thought it would be in the vain of Kurlansky's Salt. However, I found it over-long and so detailed as to lose the big picture and therefore interest of the reader. I almost didn't finish it, and when I did it took almost 2 months! It reads more like a doctoral thesis than a narrative.
Karen
A good one-time read. The style makes the book move along well enough for non-fiction. I wouldn't say I learned many practical things -- mostly trivia, and alot of perspective on how spices were constantly both desired and reviled through history. I thought there would be more overarching revelations about why spices are no longer so earth-movingly important, but it really just comes down to rare vs. common.
heather
Rather than a "could not finish," Spice was a "did not finish." This comprehensive tome of the history of spices is incredibly well-researched, well-written, and fascinating. I could tell that Turner was PSYCHED about spices, which--as I tell my students--made me want to keep reading. However, it is a lot of history to absorb. I recommend reading individual chapters as you would essays.
Lorri
Informative but long. I realize the difficulty of organizing a book that covers both the historical evolution of spice as well as seeks to explore spices topically (culinary, medicinal, spiritual, etc). However the way the book is laid out lends itself to a lot of repeated information. I enjoyed reading this and like the author's writing style but I was ready to be done 2/3s of the way through.
Mary
Feb 07, 2008 Mary added it
I learned many things from this book that I would never have learned in a history class, and parts of it were fascinating. I will admit that I had to skim over some of the middle section - a few too many examples of how spices were used for medieval medicines. It all started to blur together at times. On the whole, though, I would recommend it to anyone interested in history and trade.
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