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Sugar: A Bittersweet History

3.62  ·  Rating Details ·  218 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
Sugar: A Bittersweet History offers a perceptive and provocative investigation of a commodity that most of us savour every day yet know little about. Impressively researched and commandingly written, this thoroughly engaging book follows the history of sugar to the present day. It is a revealing look at how sugar changed the nature of meals, fuelled the Industrial Revoluti ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published January 29th 2008 by Penguin Canada (first published January 1st 2008)
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Community Reviews

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It wasn't really so bad I couldn't finish, more along the lines that the library wanted it back and I just wasn't taken with it.

I was about 1/2 way through it and it was still just all about slavery on sugar plantations. After flipping through it, the kind of stuff I was curious about (like modern information on the sugar industry) was hardly covered at all.

Yes, slavery was bad. But how about next time just doing a book about slavery? Sheesh.
Sep 12, 2013 Jack rated it it was ok
A more accurate (and long-winded) title for this would have been "A History of the Slave Trade Resulting from the Sugar Industry." Abbott's research is meticulous and her prose is adequate, faltering only when she tries to wax eloquent, but her ability to stay on topic is sorely lacking. At least two-thirds of the text is devoted to a thorough exploration of slavery, which, while obviously an important topic in itself, is not the professed subject of this book. Had Abbott shortened the section o ...more
Nov 11, 2009 Lee is currently reading it
Historical account of the political, religious background to sugar's power. Dry, but incredibly interesting background. Unfortunately it seems the last chapter only grazes on the current political influence of the industry.
Shannon Coates
Nov 13, 2011 Shannon Coates rated it really liked it
Bob Redmond
Jan 23, 2010 Bob Redmond rated it liked it
Shelves: food-and-farms
In 400 pages and 700 footnotes, Elizabeth Abbott tells the relentlessly monotonous and sordid history of sugar. At times (OK, most of the time) I feared it was her writing style that was the main cause of "relentlessly monotonous," but she cannot be blamed that the story of sugar, for the past 525 years, has been one howling tragedy after another: slaveries, environmental destructions and economic ruins, not to mention poor health for those who indulge.

Sugar was not just a circumstance of slaver
Brittany Kubes
Aug 14, 2013 Brittany Kubes rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
“Cane cultivation destroyed the indigenous Arawaks and Caribs, degraded their environment and created a New World peopled by Europeans and enslaved Africans and later millions of indentured Indians, Chinese and Japanese. Racism developed to justify black slavery and ‘coolie’ labor, a new kind of slavery.” After reading this concise excerpted summary, you could probably skip 350 out of the 406 pages of this book which give excessive, tangential and bizarre details of the lives of individual slav ...more
Jul 30, 2010 Brian rated it really liked it

It would have been better named Sugar and Slavery because that is the main thrust of the book. Interesting that I found this book so shortly after reading Isabelle Allende’s latest novel The Island Under the Sea, which covers much of the same ground but in fiction. Abbott explores the horror that colonizing Latin America brought to the native peoples. And how the demands of the sugar economy had ripped apart African communities and forced slaves across the Atlantic to work sugar cane plantations
Apr 28, 2013 Meg rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, health
3.5 stars. I'd give this book 5 stars if its title were "Slavery on Sugar Plantations in the Caribbean," because I truly found it to be a well-written and interesting read, which unfortunately only covered a narrow subset of its topic. The author did exhaustive research and quotes from a wide range of sources, and she really has an ear for a good anecdote, quote, fact, or story to illustrate her point. But the book falls short of covering the title topic. I'd estimate about 3/4 of the book cover ...more
Sep 20, 2011 Insanefountain rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011

I enjoyed this book immensely and only gave it three stars due to its lack of breadth and a certain creeping naivety that came in towards the end. However the scope was great and it made me want to investigate the social history of the Caribbean islands especially Haiti much more. The highs and lows of sugar as a commodity on the world market have had a much more immense effect on world history than other similar crops in that the production of cane sugar is extremely hard on the humans who
Feb 23, 2013 Jon rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2013
An utter bore-fest. This was not so much about the history of sugar, but almost entirely about the african slave trade for the caribbean sugar indusrty. The author covers about 10 pages on pre-industrial sugar production, and then endlessly covers the slavery subject while ignoring the titled subject of her book: the sugar itself. Slavery accounts for over 50 lines of index citations, while sugar beets only 11-and corn syrup with only one mention on page 7! I would have rated this book better if ...more
Beth Barnett
Feb 23, 2013 Beth Barnett rated it liked it
Abbott's book on the history of sugar focuses mostly on the sugar plantations and trade with the West Indies. I had expected the book to be more broad in subject matter. That being said, the history covered is important and interesting to read. The history of Cane Sugar is tightly bound to the history of slavery and plantation agriculture, and this book delves into that world, touching some on the rise of beet sugar and the impact of sugar agriculture in places outside of the West Indies. The bo ...more
Dec 10, 2014 Andre rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ceci est un pamphlet sur les maux créés par le sucre et non un essai sur celui-ci. Bien que les points abordés sont pertinents, l'esclavage et la consomation farfelue de sucre ne sont pas l'ensemble du sujet. J'ai détesté l'aspect propagandaire de ce livre qui n'a pas rencontré mes attentes.
I think this book should have another title, something along the lines of "evil sugar consumption leads to human misery". Whereas slavery and the "worthiness" of sugar consumption absolutely need to be addres
Ken Puddicombe
Elizabeth Abbott has written a book that covers not only the history and background of our most alluring everyday substance, but has documented the impact it has had on the world economy, even today. Most fascinating of all, is the way she has delved into the implications sugar has had on slavery and indentureship. In her skillful literary hands, sugar emerges as an iniquitous and sometimes evil cause that has provoked many of the world's conflicts and social inequity. For a non-fiction book, I ...more
Okay, but everything except the sugar industry in the Caribbean prior to the abolition of slavery was crammed into less than one-quarter of the book, and for the first three quarters, the focus was more on the slave trade and slave life than sugar. Slavery was, of course, a huge part of the spread of the sugar industry, but it wasn't ALL of it, and the other parts deserved more attention than they got.
Zen Cho
Aug 29, 2011 Zen Cho rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
Good stuff. I made lots of notes but am lazy to write them up in detail! They were mostly in the vein of "find out more about x", though. I was a bit doubtful about the argument that everything ever was caused by the sugar industry, though I can believe it was a massive force in history. I knew some of this from the London, Sugar and Slavery exhibition at the Museum of London, Docklands, but not in so much detail, so this was very much worth reading.
Mary Kathryn
Oct 21, 2010 Mary Kathryn rated it really liked it
A concise history of the brutal tale that has been the sugar cane and beet sugar industry worldwide. Colonialism, slavery and labour that is still coerced today run like threads through Abbott's well-researched and excellent book. Not entirely a bleak story, she offers hope that sugar might become environmentally sustainable as an ethanol producer. Necessary reading for all cupcake lovers and those w/ a sweet tooth.
Jan 11, 2013 Manny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-history
Thoroughly researched and detailed, it presents the effects of sugar slavery on the mores of social consciousnesses. More of a historical treatise on plantation slavery (overly) rather then the significance of sugar as a foodstuff (as the book SALT did), it left this reader fairly numb and exasperated.
Jan 31, 2013 Meridith rated it liked it
I just couldn't finish reading this book. I found the topic and a lot of the information fascinating, but the book got bogged down in the minutia. Too much time was spent hashing and rehashing stories from the plantations that didn't seem to flow with any narrative. I usually have a hard time putting a book down; I had a harder time convincing myself to pick this one back up, so I gave up.
Patrick Pilz
Apr 01, 2016 Patrick Pilz rated it it was ok
This is book is largely a political history of sugar. It describes the effects on slavery, workforce and the changes therein. It fells short on the food technological aspects or the nutritional implications on society. At times I felt that the book is more about slavery and poor working conditions than on the topic of sugar.
Kathleen McRae
Oct 28, 2013 Kathleen McRae rated it really liked it
A comprehensive and well researched history of sugar and its role in history and its usage as it became more available.The book includes the devastating effects the consumption of sugar has had on following generations.
Ahmad Saidullah
Jul 28, 2011 Ahmad Saidullah rated it it was amazing
A fabulous book on sugar cultivation, probably the most heinous commercial driver of the slave trade and indentured labour. Abbott is also excellent at the control sugar has over the lives of consumers,
Oct 15, 2012 Lynne rated it really liked it
An interesting book, revealing how sugar and its economy have infiltrated so many aspects of our lives, history and society. Perhaps a bit too long though; for instance, maybe some of the well known aspects of the slave trade could have been circumscribed.
Mar 10, 2012 Alicia rated it liked it
I feel like the author lost focus. This was mostly about sugar slavery and how methods of sugar production have effected the race relations in different countries. Excellent research and good writing, but not quite what I expected.
L. Wood
Feb 05, 2014 L. Wood rated it really liked it
Great history of the slave trade involving this global product. If you want to be disgusted and educated, a must read.
Mar 17, 2011 Camper rated it liked it
At least half the book is about slavery as a result of the sugar industry rather than sugar itself.
Dec 09, 2015 Steve is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Its a book on history.... not sugar. Sugar is like a drug what evil society does to get the stuff in quantity to feed the need.
Sandy rated it really liked it
Dec 28, 2014
Lexi rated it it was amazing
Sep 23, 2014
Lucy rated it really liked it
Apr 20, 2015
Jiselle rated it really liked it
Jan 16, 2015
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