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Island People: The Caribbean and the World

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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 the Santa María's deck in 1492 at what he mistook for an island off Asia, the Caribbean has been subjected to the misunderstandings and fantasies of outsiders. Running roughshod over the place, they have viewed these islands and their inhabitants as exotic allure to be consumed or conquered. The Caribbean stood at the center of the transatlantic slave trade for more than three hundred years, with societies shaped by mass migrations and forced labor. But its people, scattered across a vast archipelago and separated by the languages of their colonizers, have nonetheless together helped make the modern world—its politics, religion, economics, music, and culture. Jelly-Schapiro gives a sweeping account of how these islands’ inhabitants have searched and fought for better lives. With wit and erudition, he chronicles this “place where globalization began,” and introduces us to its forty million people who continue to decisively shape our world.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published November 15, 2016

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About the author

Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

9 books32 followers
Joshua Jelly-Schapiro is a geographer and writer whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, the New York Times, and Harper's magazine, among many other publications. Among his books is Names of New York, Island People, and (with Rebecca Solnit) Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas. He is a scholar-in-residence at the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU, where he also teaches.

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5 stars
40 (19%)
4 stars
80 (38%)
3 stars
63 (30%)
2 stars
21 (10%)
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6 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 43 reviews
Profile Image for Suzette.
8 reviews
February 7, 2017
There's so much interesting in this book as the author details his travels, and I was excited to read this recommendation from a bookstore. However, within the wonderful details are biases that irritated me so much. There is a reference to the author observing Jamaicans at a chain restaurant and his thoughts that they are perhaps "getting a jump on their dream to dwell in a Florida suburb" ... I have no idea how one infers/ even gets in the mind that eating a meal from a chain restaurant translates to wanting to live in America. The disdain for the Marley children was too much. Sure he is entitled to his opinions and perspectives in his travel journey but they irritated me too much that it took away the joy from reading the stories of the beautiful Caribbean.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Aloke.
197 reviews51 followers
February 26, 2019
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.
Profile Image for George Roper.
43 reviews14 followers
January 7, 2019
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 artists and writers on world culture;
2) European colonization on the Caribbean;
3) US hegemony, particularly on the former Spanish colonies;
4) forces that drove many of those islands towards political independence and the aftermath of that process; and
5) remaining under European rule, for those territories profiled that chose that path rather than the route of independence.

The diversity of the various islands in the region - a point often missed by the uninitiated outsider - comes clearly through in Jelly-Schapiro's accounts of his journeys through the Greater and Lesser Antilles, namely Jamaica, Cuba, Dominican Republic (DR), Haiti, Puerto Rico, Cayman Islands, Antigua & Barbuda, Grenada, Montserrat, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominica, and Trinidad and Tobago. If you have never visited any of these islands, reading Jelly-Schapiros' book is the next best thing.

Jelly-Schapiro does an exceptional job in examining the fractious relationship between Haiti and its neighbor the DR with whom it shares the same land mass - the island of Hispaniola. His profiles of Martinique's poet-politician Aime Cesaire and his one time student Frantz Fanon is also illuminating, effectively elucidating the reasons why the former is revered in his homeland (and also favorably recognized in France) whilst the other is not - though Fanon is adored by academics and revolutionaries the world over, across several generations. The book also has interesting profiles of Dominica's Jean Rhys, Trinidad's V.S. Naipaul (a Nobel laureate) and CLR James, and Antigua's Jamaica Kincaid, illustrious writers all.

The pacing is perfect as Schapiro's writing style packs a lot of content into each and every sentence, but so fascinating were the subjects covered by the book, I found myself wanting to know much more about what I read at several points. Those urges came most forcibly to the fore as I read Jelly-Schapiro's accounts of the Haitian wars of independence, Grenada's political crisis of the early 1980s, the impact of the 1958 Notting Hill Riots on the lives of Caribbean people living in England, the rise and fall of Michael X (formerly Michael Defrietas) and the unique societies and cultures of Barbuda and Montserrat. The author could easily expand many of the chapters into individual full blown books - a challenge I hope he finds worthy to take on. More importantly, there is a need for the people of the region to write their own story... hopefully this book helps to spread a recognition of that need.

Congratulations to the author on a job well done. And might I add, it was a good choice to start this engaging travelogue in Jamaica - my home and the land of my birth! The book underscores that Jamaica - and indeed the entire region as a collective - has punched way above its weight class in its global impact. The Caribbean - even with its troubled history, complicated present and uncertain future - is a gift to the world that keeps on giving.
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953 reviews95.3k followers
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November 23, 2016
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.


Backlist bump: The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost


Tune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to all things new books, All The Books: http://bookriot.com/listen/shows/allt...
Profile Image for Fiona.
624 reviews1 follower
December 4, 2018
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, Martinique and Guadeloupe, Dominica, and Trinidad (nothing about Tobago). Not only did he write about the history and geography of the islands, but also about their culture. In fact, I first thought that this book was about the music of the islands.

Of all the islands he writes about, Haiti impressed me more than any other island. Haiti, you say? Yes, Haiti. The only nation where the slaves revolted and took over their homeland. It´s also the home of The Citadel which is the largest fortress in the New World built by Henri Christoph in the 1800´s. Looking at pictures, it is a remarkable but ruinous structure now.

Other facts that I found interesting are:
-- US Navy once owned 2/3 of the island of Cuba and more than likely procured its ownership in a dubious manner.
-- Although Dominican Republic and Haiti share the island of Hispaniola, they are as difffernt nations as can be. How can one country be richer than the other? There was no definitive answer. Dominican Republic, although not rich, is definitely richer than Haiti and has benefitted from tourism. Haiti is well-known for its poverty and earthquake stricken country. There is also an immigration issue between the two countries. Dominican Republic will not give citizenship papers to those born in that country if they are descandent from Haitians. Many of these people with questionable citizenship fear deportation to Haiti and Dominican Republic has threaten deportation.
-- I remember hearing in the news about the US military "rescuing" American medical students in Grenada. According to the author, this reasoning is a ruse that the US used to invade Grenada and rid the country of Cuban military and influences.
-- Martinique and Guadeloupe are not independent countries but French departments (DOM-TOMs). Citizens of these two islands are French citizens the same as French citizens in Paris. As such, they are also Europeans as part of the EU with all its benefits and disadvantages.
-- Martinican poet Aimé Césaire termed the phrase "negritude" which is the philosophy of rejecting self-hate that was instilled by colonial rule.
-- France gave that frozen country of Canada to Britain in order to have Martinique and Guadeloupe. I think they thought these two islands would be like the other Caribbean countries rich in sugar cand and/or tobacco but they were wrong. The land is not arable.
-- I had just finished reading a book by Jean Rhys who is a Dominican. The author spent much of this chapter discussing her life and books. I now want to read her most famous book, Wide Sargosso Sea.
-- Trinidad is off the coast of Venezuela and also has oil deposits which makes it a rich country in relation of other Caribbean nations. In fact, Trinidad has a GDP equal to that of a first world nation.

I learned so much. I still don´t understand the difference between Cuban son music and salsa but maybe one day I will. Very informative.
1,916 reviews20 followers
May 12, 2017
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 places are on my list as a result of reading this brilliant book but I'm fearfully of turning into a cruise tourist who doesn't properly experience the islands.

So regardless of whether you're planning to travel or are simply curious about this extraordinarily multicultural part of the world, you must read this book.
Profile Image for Andrew.
744 reviews
June 4, 2020
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 detailing the places that the author visited. There is an antique map provided at the start of the book, but something more modern, allowing the reader to follow the author as he travels from island to island would have been useful.

But overall, I enjoyed reading "Island People", and it highlighted some places in the Caribbean that I would love to visit.
1,221 reviews11 followers
December 15, 2017
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 strong background on a place like Barbuda and then mentions that he was unable to get there because the ferry from Antigua wasn't running then so you get a good background but no feel for the place. So I left mainly disappointed in this book by a fellow geographer because the places were often overwhelmed by too much other stuff.
Profile Image for Andy White.
149 reviews2 followers
March 8, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Lagobond.
395 reviews
February 6, 2022
A while ago decided I wanted to learn about Antigua and Barbuda, a small Caribbean nation I knew nothing about. I watched some YouTube videos, read a few articles online, listened to some music... I learned a few things about the history, geography, politics, language, the flag, the people, and the cuisine. Then I moved on to books. I read three of Jamaica Kincaid's novels, not realizing when I checked them out of the library that the author had left Antigua and Barbuda decades before writing her books; but finding enough tidbits about life on Antigua to keep me going (also, the books are short).

All of this gave me a fairly broad impression of the country; enough that I no longer have to say "I don't know anything about Antigua and Barbuda." For good measure, I decided to give Island People a try. I have to say this was overall quite disappointing. The chapter on Antigua is 9 pages, the first third of which is basically a rehash of the author's conversation with his taxi driver on the way to the school Jamaica Kincaid attended. He sprinkles in a few general observations about the kind of tourist who doesn't concern itself with the place he's visiting, choosing instead to live a fantasy life in a sheltered resort, viewing the locals largely as servants or from a distance. The rest of the chapter is a rehash of Kincaid's writings.

I get the impression that Jelly-Schapiro is feeling quite enlightened as he quotes paragraph after paragraph of Kincaid's observations about the inequalities and disconnect between rich tourists and locals. Yet all the while he never leaves his touristy bubble of hotel (the one with the "bad coffee"), taxi, quick photo stop, and ferry boat. And then his conclusion:
But as we rolled away from the school and back down Market Street toward Drake, all the history shaping how he spent his days and how I was spending mine, was hovering in the car and between us as well, as it always does: our appointed roles here, in this small place, whose strictures could be transcended but where subversion might never feel total.
Well... no, it won't, but it's not like he ever even tried to engage on a level that goes in any way, shape, or form beyond a simple tourist transaction. The contrast between his admiration for Kincaid's writing on the one hand, and his own obliviousness to his own role in the very dynamics she condemns, is mind-boggling.

Oh, and as for Barbuda? The author never made it there, because the ferry tickets were sold out. So instead, he chose to rehash a bit of the Antigua chapter -- plus a few history notes anyone can look up online; some musings about the nature of slavery in Barbuda vs. the rest of the world; and a lengthy treatise about a newspaper he had picked up at the airport, which discussed the current power outage in Barbuda and various corruption issues. A couple locals barely feature as asides.

Way too much regurgitation for my taste. The things I didn't already know from my fairly cursory internet readings would have fit on one page. Also the author comes across as judgmental and haughty. The writing is overwrought and grating.
Profile Image for Richard.
259 reviews
May 6, 2019
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 covered Marley's tune]), altogether an ugly patch that has not been sewn in to any good effect.

Anyway, I really liked this book, found it informative on music, history, and politics throughout the Caribbean. I came to it directly from Leigh Fermor's book, one referenced by Jelly-Schapiro occasionally in the course of this volume. This one, however, differs a great deal from its predecessor in its closer attention to factual matters and the research which under pins. Historical vignettes and brief biographies of cultural figures, writers and musicians, provide ballast for the author's trip from Jamaica (opening) to Trinidad (conclusion); beginning with an introduction, it presents two sections: The Greater Antilles: Jamaica (ch 1-3), Cuba (4-6), Puerto Rico (7), Hispaniola (8-10); The Lesser Antilles (The Sea of Islands: ch 11-14).

I found references to: one of my favorite films, The Harder They Come which the author credits for much of the global success of reggae, Castro's Cuban revolution from a much more intelligent perspective than is usually available to US readers, the Haitian-Dominican situation (which resembles the Irish/Northern Ireland division and attitude) (actually, my interest in the Caribbean was piqued by a novel (Kenneth Roberts', I think) about Toussaint L'Ouverture when I was a tad; the names that leapt out at me included his, of course, but some of my true culture heroes and favorite writers like C.L.R. James, a major influence on the author, Jose Marti, Franz Fanon, George Lamming, Naipaul, Alejo Carpentier, Paule Marshall, and numerous others. This man knows his subject inside-out.

The material is engaging and the writing moves it along smoothly. The attitudes evinced toward the darker peoples by their lighter or supposedly lighter fellow islanders or fellow Caribbeans depresses this reader though they cannot match the crassness of the Big Uncle to the northwest.

This book is a keeper, would be an excellent background text for readers of the astounding literature that the archipelago and its natives has produced in the past century and a half.
Profile Image for Kenneth.
209 reviews1 follower
February 10, 2019
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 it can come across as a little cloying but he never shrinks from looking at the underside of the things he loves and he gives it a full accounting. This is especially useful for a reader such as myself who came to the subject with neither the passion nor the erudition of Jelly-Shapiro and he made the region and its culture really come alive for me. Jelly-Shapiro is an American and I think the book is probably written with an American audience in mind, this may or may not sit as well with audiences from the region itself but it was of great use to me as I did not have a firm understanding before reading this of the powerful influence Caribbean figures have had on African American society within the United States as well as the wider American culture. While this was interesting, I don't want to overplay it because the book really is focused on the region, its history, its politics, its music, its culture, and mainly, its people. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Anela.
17 reviews1 follower
February 5, 2017
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 individually plus the region as a whole.

I stumbled upon this book because the very on-trend gradient cover caught my eye at McNally Jackson. Then I noticed the author was my T.A. at Berkeley for a class on Globalization. He mainly graded our reflections on the readings and guided our Berkeley-ite discussions as T.A.s do.

The subject matter was interesting but I think the book needed more editing. What needed work:
1) Overlong, oft-repetitive sentences smacking of Academia. Could use the Hemingway app.
2) Some sections feel quite academic, lending themselves to skimming
3) Bits of condescension that I found distracting (frequent sarcastiquotes, and just plain ol' condescending/dismissive language)
Profile Image for Hansel5.
112 reviews2 followers
August 15, 2021
After listening to Jelly-Shapiro in a webinar on NYC place names, I looked up his work. A geographer and lecturer, he has a keen interest in the Caribbean and an affinity for Cuba, I was surprised to find out.
The book was a great read. He easily glides from island to island, beginning with the Greater Antilles, recounting each island history from colonial times to their stark, honest, if problematic present. The history of colonialism is one that is painful and with wide repercussions on the racial, economic, and social nature of these volcanic and coral land formations . In the Caribbean, along with the harsh realities there is a joy the peoples, the islanders, are infused with in order to deal with the challenges of their daily lives.
The author spends more time on the islands which hold a special place in his heart: Cuba, Jamaica, Dominica, Trinidad. While others are brought in sharp contrast with the other idyllic tropical paradises due to the violent nature of their history, for example Grenada, Haiti, Dominican Republic.
2 reviews
July 20, 2017
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
Profile Image for Greg.
702 reviews9 followers
July 5, 2017
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.
110 reviews1 follower
June 12, 2021


Island People, by Joshua Jelly-Shapiro; Alfred A. Knopf: New York: $28.95 hardback

When Americans think of the Caribbean, it is vaguely defined by beautiful beaches a short flight away. Yet Joshua Jelly-Shapiro, visiting scholar at New York University, journalist, writer for many top flight magazines and indeed, geographer, brings us the color, trauma, and wonder that is this diverse, charming, and disconcerting island archipelago.

Populations as diverse as the original Carib Indians, now forever history, other native peoples, waves of Europeans and Africans, only tell part of the story. Consider for instance how skin color continued to influence distinctions in Haiti even after its revolution against the French colonials. Or consider how Spanish treatment of its populations reflected a padron system where place, duties and obligations were defined not only by religion but social class. English Islands such as Jamaica adopted reggae as a type of antidote to its own unique development under sugar barons.

Economically these islands are the result of, for example, mammoth sugar plantations worked by thousands upon thousands of slaves brought from Africa. Additionally, the rich islands were traded like chess pieces. After European wars, whole populations and their islands would be traded away by a losing power. Thus we find English as the main language of the city called Port of Spain. How these peoples integrated and live today is a story in itself which Jelly-Shapiro demonstrates with a remarkable facility. That he does so over and over, each tale more compelling than the last, is so astounding you wonder how one man could himself so carefully investigate, and appealingly inform, his readers. Just a few examples suffice. We learn of course of varied transported African and European religious and spiritual practices, but also of individual expeditions such as that of discoverers sent by Cardinal Richelieu in 1635. We learn how Christianity varied in its treatment of slaves throughout the national and cultural island practices. We learn how nutmeg in Granada is a tale of its own, and Cuba, as if somnambulant for years under Communism is now reawakening to a chance to integrate again into the main life of the other islands.

Jelly-Shapiro is both social commentator and geographer. He demonstrates how not only the land, thus the economies, and so the social arrangements all intersect. He finds people who can talk authoritatively about whatever subject he pursues, be it Cuban mestizos, the art deco beauty of Fort de France's Hotel L'Imperatrice, or any of a thousand other appropriate subjects. I found reading this book gave me more appreciation for a wonderfully different region, which varies indeed from island to island. You'll enjoy this, and find so much more to whet your spirit of travel.

Profile Image for David Bickerton.
55 reviews
August 6, 2018
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 other then this might not be the book for you, but for me it just worked (on the whole). There is also quite a lot in here about Caribbean authors which was definitely of interest.

The author clearly loves the Caribbean and that shines through his writing. Having grown up on West Indies cricket and Bob Marley I have a soft spot too so it's not always easy to read the history and the constant social and economic struggles that the islands have suffered since independence. Having grown up in the UK it was also fascinating for me to see the differences between the islands from the British, French and Spanish colonies and how that has affected their social and cultural life along with the influences from Africa and later indentured labour. Well worth the read if you have any interest in the Caribbean and how it's music and literature has impacted the world.
Profile Image for Rock.
419 reviews4 followers
October 30, 2020
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 each island, and it varies how much history shows up in each. The frequent focus on cultural elements like music, literature, and poetry was very interesting, though, and I'd say overall the book is worth reading for anyone with an interest in the region.
Profile Image for Gina.
527 reviews6 followers
January 27, 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 there's that sentiment throughout this book. But it also provides a great reading list and commentary on intellectual heroes of the Caribbean.
Profile Image for Jashvina Shah.
Author 1 book6 followers
August 26, 2019
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
Profile Image for Shane Latchman.
30 reviews9 followers
January 2, 2022
A good attempt to refresh previous histories e.g. Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ‘Travellers Tree’. I personally found he focused too much on a single famous author, e.g. Jean Rhys in Dominica and V.S. Naipaul in Trinidad vs telling a more expansive story - there’s so much more going on these countries than needing to reference in some cases very old accounts. A worthwhile read nonetheless, even if to focus just on a few chapters.
173 reviews2 followers
August 26, 2017
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.
October 29, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Suzy.
45 reviews
July 22, 2020
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!
57 reviews5 followers
January 9, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Fredrick Danysh.
6,844 reviews156 followers
March 10, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Clare Auchterlonie.
Author 17 books3 followers
April 22, 2021
Part travel journal part social history, I learnt so much from this book! It took me a while to finish partly because of that - it’s a lot to take in but so much history I’m ashamed I didn’t know about the various Caribbean islands. Definitely worth a read.
September 20, 2017
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.
Author 2 books6 followers
October 31, 2017
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?
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