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Island People: The Caribbean and the World

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  173 ratings  ·  35 reviews
A masterwork of travel literature and of history: voyaging from Cuba to Jamaica, Puerto Rico to Trinidad, Haiti to Barbados, and islands in between, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro offers a kaleidoscopic portrait of each society, its culture and politics, connecting this region’s common heritage to its fierce grip on the world’s imagination.

From the moment Columbus gazed out from th
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published November 15th 2016 by Knopf
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I give this six stars because it is so packed with information about Caribbean (outstanding on Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti and Dominican Republic) history, music and literature. And Jelly-Schapiro is a charming but dorky travel guide. But I'll subtract a star because the writing is sometimes baroque (there were a handful of times when I lost track of nested clauses). Honestly, this is probably a four star book for most but I really loved it once I got into it. ...more
Book Riot Community
A comprehensive and intriguing look at the nations of the Caribbean, their shifting identities through the centuries, and their music, politics, religions, cutltures, and people. Jelly-Schapiro delves deep into the sometimes ugly history of such beautiful places, as well as thoroughly examining what role the Caribban has played in shaping the present world. But you don ‘t have to take my word for it – it’s also highly recommended by Marlon James! I’ll read anything he tells me to read.

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George Roper
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Caribbean Basin contains islands that have been the birth place and residence for countless influential authors, musicians, political leaders, revolutionary thinkers and poets.

Joshua Jelly-Schapiro's "Island People" adds to an already extensive volume of books written about the region's lands, history and people. What makes this book a worthy addition to the extant body of literature on the Caribbean is the fact that in one book you can read about the impact of:
1) The Caribbean's leading art
Informative book about several of the Caribbean islands. However, I often found it difficult reading. Apparently the author was working on his doctorate thesis, which I´m sure this book was a part of that effort. This book was written for academia: wordy and lengthy prose.

The countries the author writes about are the Greater Antilles (Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola consisting of Dominican Republic and Haiti) and the Lesser Antilles( Cayman, Barbados, Grenada, Barbuda, Montserrat, Antigua
Ann Tonks
May 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, travel, caribbean
I rarely give 5 stars to books but this was a stand-out. Partly because I learnt so much about the history and culture of countries in the Caribbean from Jamaica to Dominica, Cuba to Haiti, large islands to small islands. Partly because this is clearly a work of a learned and passionate person. Partly because the story telling is so full of humanity.

I picked it up accidentally because like many people, Cuba is on my travel list but know I'm in a deeply ambivalent situation. Many more Caribbean
Jun 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is not just a travelogue of the Caribbean. As Joshua Jelly-Schapiro arrives at each island, he offers some background history, it's culture as well as a look at the contemporary lifestyle and politics of the place.

It was interesting to see how the various locations visited (Jamaica, Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Montserrat, Grenada, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Martinique, and Trinidad) differ in many ways but also have their similarities.

One thing that is missing is a map
John Benson
Dec 14, 2017 rated it liked it
I had a hard time with this book. Written by a geographer, it only includes one map and it was made in 1701! Chapter qualities vary from place to place. The book is a mixture of a travelogue with a mix of history, cultural (with an emphasis on music) and literary studies. When he overemphasizes the music of a place, like he did in Jamaica, I felt lost. Other times when he had the right mixes of all parts, like in Cuba and Hispaniola, the book seems to work quite well. Other times he brings out a ...more
Andy White
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting and accessible history of some of the Caribbean islands. The author is at his best when he narrates his adventures on the islands. I did skip a couple of offshoots from his history telling. They were a little too lengthy (e.g., history of West Indians in London). An important work on this topic and a fun armchair adventure.
May 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the "Black Atlantic"
Recommended to Richard by: TLS, my own interest and travel
I hope this author is onto the Windrush story, the execrable treatment of Caribbean immigrants and their British-born children who since 2010 (PM May's term as the Home Office Secretary, 2010-16) have been deported, denied services, and otherwise mistreated under Mrs. May's "hostile environment" policies. Enoch Powell's notorious attitude was seconded by Eric Clapton in the '60s, among others (when he gave his rant, a member of the audience shouted "You didn't shoot the sheriff" {Clapton had cov ...more
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This a remarkable survey of the history and culture of the Caribbean basin. It begins in Jamaica and works it's way around the arc of Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and the Antilles down to Trinidad. Jelly-Shapiro has had a love of and fascination with the region that predates his academic training which has also suited him for the analysis he does in his travels. This makes the work an interesting combination of passion and erudition. At some points, when describing his musical or leftist heroes ...more
Jan 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Excellent travelogue on Caribbean islands: Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico, DR, Haiti, Cayman, Barbados, Antigua, Barbuda, Trinidad, Dominica, Grenada, Martinique, etc. Travel centers on music (Jamaican reggae, Cuban everything, Trinidadian calypso) and the author's search for the origins of literary figures and intellectuals (V.S. Naipul, C.L.R. James, Jamaica Kincaid, Jean Rhys, Frantz Fanon). But you also learn about politics, history and culture. A fascinating compendium, he ponders each country ...more
Jul 19, 2017 rated it did not like it
The focus of the book is centered far too much on music- although an important part of many of the islands identities there is so much more to these nations! I was expecting a more rounded approach but the minute details on various musicians, to the detriment of other historical and notable figures lost it for me
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
2.5, really, perhaps, for being fairly comprehensive but lacking the rest for condescension & overcompensation. His tone is (to me) insufferable for solidly half the book. No thank you.
David Bickerton
Aug 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
A truly excellent book which I enjoyed the more I read it, even though this might not make much sense given that it covers different islands. Starting out with Jamaica, the island I know best, I wasn't quite sure about the book because I couldn't understand the rationale of what was covered and what was not covered. The book is a mixture of history, travel anecdotes, relatively recent current affairs which differs by island. If you are looking for something that is more clearly one than the oth ...more
Oct 30, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book thinking it was written by a native of the Caribbean, only to learn in the first few pages that the author grew up in Vermont and became enamored with the region through a teenage fixation on Bob Marley. Oh well, he is up-front about his biases at least, which may or may not be responsible for their frequent appearances. I was hoping for more of a historical perspective on the islands and their interactions, but the book is chopped up into chapters or groups of chapters on eac ...more
Jan 26, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2020
I'm not entirely sure what to make of this... As a mix of travelogue and history, it unevenly details the culture of islands across the Caribbean. Many of the sections focus upon a particular genre of music, though nothing more contemporary than reggae (which is the obsession of the first section on Jamaica). I know it's a staple of the genre, but it rubs me the wrong way to read of people described as broadly "lovely" or some other adjective describing the bland goodness of foreigners, and ther ...more
Jashvina Shah
Aug 26, 2019 rated it did not like it
I was excited to read this book, and I liked the intro. But for someone who, in the intro, talks a lot about the racism that has impacted the Caribbean, he paces A LOT of xenophobia throughout this book. The first part made my skin craw - I don’t think he’s allowed to judge whether or not Jamaica’s branding is a good thing. It was very centered around himself. I think you can find better books if you truly want to learn history of the Caribbean
Aug 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Comprehensive and fascinating tour of the major and minor islands of the Caribbean. Jelly-Schapiro has a deep knowledge and respect the history of these islands and their people. He is the rare combination of excellent historian, travel writer, journalist and genial companion. You will learn a hell of a lot from this book and you will likely never set foot into an all-inclusive resort again.
Antonia Mohamed
Oct 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
In taking time to learn about the culture and history of Trinidad and Tobago, I'm really glad I picked up the book at my library. I learned a lot about Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Haiti, St.Lucia and other surrounding islands in the Caribbean.
Each unique in their own history, struggle, economy, colonization and fight for Independence, each island beautiful and rich in history.
Jul 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Absolutely packed full of information on the Caribbean and the impact the region has had on the wider world, it was like a candy store of new ideas and historic facts. Though dorky and an enticing tour, initially the writing style took me a while to get into, with his penchant for run-on sentences.

But when I got into it, I was hooked and struggled to put the book down!
Jan 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
More musically focused that I'd choose, but excellent series of personal vignettes, island-focused social/musical/political history, and broader analyses. Makes you want to read more (especially CLR James and VS Naipaul) and travel to the Caribbean. ...more
Fredrick Danysh
Mar 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
The social and cultural history of the Caribbean islands and their peoples is told from the author's experiences. Some political history is also covered. This gives background of the region and the transition of its peoples. ...more
Christel Keijzer
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An interesting and concise account of some of the Caribbean islands' history from the past leading up to the present, with some interesting contemporary musical anecdotes as well.
Leo W.
Oct 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Sometimes a travelogue, sometimes a Ph.D. thesis. Frequently engaging, especially on Caribbean musical and literary tradition. Uneven treatment of different island, but how could it be anything else?
David Burns
Jul 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Informative interview with the author:
Marc Fitten
Aug 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great nonfiction and great look at the Americas. Highly recommend if you're interested in learning more about colonialism, music, and backgrounds of Caribbean peoples. ...more
Oct 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
Self-aware but not apologetic; just the right amount of history, pop culture, commentary and the author’s personal passions
Staci Suhy
Dec 17, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book for free as part of a first reads promotion
Bart Bickel
Feb 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Point at a the western part of Cuba on a map of the Caribbean then slowly move to the south and east across the Greater, then Lesser Antilles towards Trinidad. The space in between is a series of explorations into the people, especially the writers and musicians who have created these interconnected and distinct landscapes. geography. writing.
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Joshua Jelly-Schapiro is a geographer and writer whose books include "Island People: The Caribbean and the World," and "Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas," which he co-edited with Rebecca Solnit. His essays on arts, history, culture, and politics have appeared in the New York Review of Books, New York, Harper's, The Nation, Artforum, The Believer, and on Educated at Yale and ...more

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