David's Reviews > Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science

Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson
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's review
Mar 30, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: ya-non-fiction, kids-nonfiction, history

Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science by Marc Aronson & Marina Budhos is an examination of the role of sugar in transforming the world, particularly changing social, political and economic values.

In the introduction the authors note their family associations with sugar which spurred them to write this book. Part one of the book examines how sugar spread through Asia and into Europe. Part two tells the ordeal of living and working on a sugar plantation, including many
illustrations and photographs, and maps showing the flow of slaves from Africa to the Americas. Part three describes the push and fight for freedom, including slaves, New England colonists, and English & French citizens. Part four explores how social reform and scientific discoveries, including the development of beet sugar, changed the sugar industry. A concluding section explains how the authors researched the book and a time line, source notes, bibliography & index follow.

Throughout the book are fascinating details about cane growing and harvesting, sugar processing, the spread of tea-drinking, the use of indentured servants, the growth of ideals of equality and of peaceful resistance. We learn of Olaudah Equiano, an enslaved African taken to Barbados to work in sugar, of Thomas Thistlewood, a white overseer who wrote of the cruelties he inflicted on his charges, of Toussaint L'Ouverture & his revolution, and of Ghandi in Africa. We hear about the university of Jundi Shapur, which flourished fifteen hundred years ago in what is now Iran, & that the “whitest and purest” sugar of the ancient world came from Egypt. The authors also link sugar to colonialism, global trade, migration, slavery, revolutions, culinary arts, and religious practice.

There are few problems. Some statements are made, yet never returned to or expanded upon. I would have prefered Aronson spend more time on the scientific basis for the human urge for sugar, & the more recent quest to create sugar without calories. Occasionally generealizations are made that seem too broad, or overly positive or simplistic.

Despite these quibbles, this is an excellent overview of the role of supgar in shaping our world, with an emphsis on the slavery issue that should be taken advantage of by teachers everywhere and be available on library shelves.

For teachers and students, and those who enjoy reading about world history, slavery, commerce and commodities, and for fans of Marc Aronson & Marina Budhos.

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