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Nathaniel's Nutmeg: How One Man's Courage Changed the Course of History
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Nathaniel's Nutmeg: How One Man's Courage Changed the Course of History

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  1,784 ratings  ·  175 reviews
The island that became Maluka was fought over in the early 17th century by the British and the Dutch, because of the nutmeg there. Nathaniel Courthope and a band of 30 men defended the island successfully against a force 100 times greater.
Paperback, 388 pages
Published 2005 by Sceptre (first published 1999)
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Kinga
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...more
Belinda
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
Picoroco
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...more
Emily
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
GoldGato
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...more
'Aussie Rick'

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!
Beth Cato
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
Summary:

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,...more
Vanessa
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...more
Dave Mosher
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...more
Gavin
The tale of the opening up of the Spice Islands of Indonesia. Very interesting and well written.
Ann
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...more
Tom
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...more
Mark Balcombe
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
Dermo
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...more
Cam
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!
Sarah
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...more
Rachel
Fascinating and action packed history of the Dutch and English rivalry for the Banda Islands/Spice Islands in the early modern period which led to a deal which gave Manhattan Island to the English.
Mike Parsons
To sum up: Extremely interesting but hard going. I thought I was going to read the story of Nathaniel but he was hardly mentioned and it was really a record of the various expeditions to, primarily, the spice islands in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. I had no idea the effect the spice race had on English and European history (not to mention that of the spice islands themselves) and the hardships that people went through are unimaginable (who'd have thought it of the Dutch!). I had to r...more
Andres Eguiguren
As noted in a couple of the other reviews I read, the title of this book is somewhat misleading. Nathaniel Courthope, the title character, features prominently in perhaps 10% of the book, with the other 90% devoted to the skirmishes between the Dutch and the English in the late 16th Century and the first half of the 17th Century over the spice trade with the East Indies. I like these types of micro-histories, but this one drags on for rather too long and I had a hard time reading more than a cha...more
Thomas Andrikus
Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton is a historical account which neatly chronicles the race of all the major powers in Western Europe to corner the spice market. One of the most sought-after spice at that time was nutmeg, a native plant of Banda Islands, East Indies (now known as Indonesia).

Some of us might be wondering: What is nutmeg? Why was it so popular? Well, back then, it was a fruit known to kill the smell and taste of rotten meat (which is true). It was also believed to have powerful me...more
Jeanette
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Elizabeth
Painfully slow. I wanted to poke my eyes out with a knitting needle so I could tell my book club that I just couldn't finish it. After the first several voyages to the spice islands with ships being wreaked, people dying and maybe the ships making it home, there is nothing new. The same events over and over and over with different people. And who is Nathaniel? He shows up around p. 200 and contrary to the author's belief, he is a small character that wouldn't be missed if he weren't in the book....more
Lori
Less than a third of this book is actually about Nathaniel Courthope. The 200 pages that Milton uses to set the stage for the short story about Courthope feel a lot like a history text. They are all about voyages and subsequent battles between the Dutch, English, Portuguese, and Spanish, as they leveraged for power in the spice trade.

One wonders why Milton had to go all the way back to the history of the Portuguese and Spanish for this book. While important, the information doesn't add much to...more
Stefan
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
Mick
It might be hard to believe that nutmeg was once a commodity as valuable in its time as oil is today. However, in the 17th century it was revered for its use as a food flavouring and for supposedly medicinal properties. Fleets were raised to search for it, people committed murder for it, nations went to war for control of it. In "Nathaniel's Nutmeg: How One Man's Courage Changed the Course of History", Milton recounts the history of the 17th century race to control the world's only source of nut...more
John Caviglia
The first thing that came to mind, attempting to sum this book, is Henry James' celebrated castigation of nineteenth century novels (which I love ... both the castigation and the novels, I mean) as "large loose baggy monsters."

As Nathaniel's Nutmeg (NN) is not large, I will call it a "small loose baggy monster." In practice, for me, loose and baggy of whatever extension means that I resort to speed reading for gist rather than detail until my attention is slowed by interest. NN is a so-called "...more
Dianne
An interesting account of the little known spice wars as countries vied for control of the lucrative spice trade - namely nutmeg, mace and cloves, whose original distribution was limited to a few volcanic islands in Indonesia. The conditions under which these early sailors existed, the dangers, cruelty, greed and double-dealing are horrifying. The Dutch were particularly unscrupulous leading to the Anglo-Dutch war. Their intransigence in refusing to allow the English to maintain ownership of the...more
Ladiibbug
Non-Fiction

Krin rec's 7/08 - History of spice trade

Very well written history of the early days of the spice trade and the increasingly tense and competitive battle between the powerful Dutch East India Company and the British for control over the spice-producing islands in the Indonesian archipelago. Spain and Portugal played minor roles in the spice trade.

Nutmeg, already highly valuable as a spice, and as a cure for flatulence and the common cold, rocketed in value when physicians of Elizabetha...more
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16491
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...more
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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” 1 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” 1 likes
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