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

Nathaniel's Nutmeg by Giles Milton
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's review
Dec 04, 11

Read from July 01 to 11, 2011

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 impotence. In the beginning of the 17th century nutmeg was in. Maybe one day people will laugh at the lenghts we go now to get access and control over the oil resources.

Interestingly enough, nutmegs grew only on a few small remote islands that form part of today's Indonesia. For about two hundred years no one had the brilliant idea of taking some seeds and planting them somewhere else, it seems. Instead, the English and the Dutch fought like maniacs over Banda islands that had very little except for nutmeg. Of course, Giles Milton sympathises with the poor natives who got paid very little for their nutmeg which fetched astronomical prices in Europe. But I'd like to believe that the natives were thinking they were conning the Europeans selling them all that useless nutmeg and getting things like knives and clothes in return. They probably thought: "What in the hell are you doing with all that nutmeg, you crazy white man?".

Long story short, thanks to nutmeg New York is called New York and not New Amsterdam and we are not all speaking Dutch. If you want to know what that has to do with the price of the fish, read the book. You will also learn that the English are good and the Dutch are bad (it is not quite clear why, but apparently the English were more gentlemanly when doing the pirate stuff). Another thing, Nathaniel doesn't appear until towards the end of the book and doesn't do all that much before dying but he makes for a nice title.

This is a book for people who want to know how people found places before the Google Maps and how weird it was when information would travel from one place to another for two years, rather than 0.2 sec. Good God, people used to be patient back then.
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Reading Progress

07/05/2011 page 136
35.0% "What I have learnt so far fromt his book is that the English are good, the Dutch are bad, and the Portuguese are good when they help the English."
07/06/2011 page 163
42.0% "Still no nathaniel..."

Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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message 1: by Shovelmonkey1 (new)

Shovelmonkey1 Great review! This has been on my TBR pile for a while now and after reading your review i might just bump it up the pile a bit.

Kinga Thanks! I have just edited it as parts weren't in English (I was writing it under the influence of alcohol)

message 3: by Shovelmonkey1 (new)

Shovelmonkey1 The creative spirit fuelled by actual spirit... isn't that the best way? If you were writing in dutch then I would only know the swear words! writing in any other language other than French or Turkish and i'd be outright stumped.

message 4: by Suna (new) - added it

Suna Though I am by no means unaware that the Dutch were instrumental in pretty much exterminating the Banda natives in their pursuit of the nutmeg monopoly, my guess is if this were written from a Dutch perspective, the view of the English would not fare so well!

Kinga I am pretty sure as well.

I have just finished reading Ten Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. In this one the Dutch are good and the English are bad.

message 6: by Suna (new) - added it

Suna The Men-of-War by David Armine Howarth does an admirable job of representing both parties during the Anglo-Dutch wars and giving out equal shares of 'they are a bold nation' and 'they could also be rapacious bastards'.

It's extremely well written and mentions the grudging respect both nations had for each others tactics at various points during the wars.

If you're interested:

message 7: by Manny (new)

Manny Does he explain the origin of the tradition nursery rhyme I had a little nut tree? It sounds like it might have been political, à la Hickory Dickory Dock.

Kinga As I didn't learn English until I was well into my teens, all nursery rhyme references are, sadly, lost on me.

message 9: by Manny (new)

I had a little nut tree,
Nothing would it bear
But a silver nutmeg,
And a golden pear;
The King of Spain's daughter
Came to visit me,
And all for the sake
Of my little nut tree.

Her dress was made of crimson,
Jet black was her hair,
She asked me for my nut tree
And my golden pear.
I said, "So fair a princess
Never did I see,
I'll give you all the fruit
From my little nut tree.
I just looked around - according to this page, it's about Katherine of Aragon. But what's that got to do with nutmeg?

message 10: by Richard (new)

Richard Manny wrote: "I just looked around - according to this page, it's about Katherine of Aragon. But what's that got to do with nutmeg? "

Well, Katherine's sister Juana was nuts!

Astrid Reza i guess both english and dutch did the same harm. regarding for the bandanese. especially when they remove all the seeding including the special banda land (where it only specifically grow there) and remove all the nutmeg tree to other places. and bye bye banda's main economic resources.

although maybe for the bandanese, we (i'm indonesian, hi :D) do take nutmeg for granted and confused why the colonialist were fighting about it.

i'm still lost in my thought on this book. but i have to say, it open my eyes on how much harm did a jan pieterzoon coen to the banda people and the rest of the archipelago. it's the same now with all the multi-national corporations ruining our country now.

message 12: by Libby (new)

Libby Another one of your enjoyable reviews! I especially liked the following, "You will also learn that the English are good and the Dutch are bad (it is not quite clear why, but apparently the English were more gentlemanly when doing the pirate stuff)." Giggle worthy, for sure...yet memorable as well.

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