Beth Cato's Reviews > Nathaniel's Nutmeg: or, The True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History

Nathaniel's Nutmeg by Giles Milton
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Apr 10, 12

bookshelves: in, 2009, history, nonfiction
Read in May, 2009

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 English, though the last two were the greatest foes. In this fascinating story, Milton describes the incredible effort it took to make it to Run and its neighboring islands. Thousands of lives were lost just in the journey. Shipwrecks, dysentery, piracy. Starving sailors would land on islands and gorge on scared cows, only to be slaughtered by mobs of horrified villagers who believed the cows held the spirits of deceased ancestors. When the Dutch finally gained control and brutally subjugated the native population of the islands, the English still persisted in their claim for spices. War ensued. Brutality was undeniable on both sides, but Nathaniel Courthope's valiant stand on the island of Run made the English claim seem justified. The end result of this conflict: a simple trade of the wealthy island of Run for a scarcely-settled island in America named Manhattan.[return][return]This book was enlightening. I have nutmeg in my kitchen cupboard and took it for granted. It costs what, $3? I've read about the Spice Wars, but knew nothing about the specifics or the sacrifices involved. It made me feel sad at times. People really should know about these things. As much as I enjoyed Nathaniel's Nutmeg, it was a very slow read and took almost a week for me to get through. I am glad I read it, though. Many thanks to the person who reviewed it on 50bookchallenge in 2008 and brought it to my attention.
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