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

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  4,151 ratings  ·  356 reviews
The tiny island of Run is an insignificant speck in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago--remote, tranquil, and now largely ignored. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, however, Run's harvest of nutmeg turned it into the most lucrative of the Spice Islands, precipitating a fierce and bloody battle between the all-powerful Dutch East India Company and a small b ...more
Paperback, 388 pages
Published 2005 by Sceptre (first published March 4th 1999)
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Adolf Sinaga The Island of Run/Roen/Roem is still inhabited with few local Bandanese and Bajaus. Its nothing of real importance nowadays. I must add that just few …moreThe Island of Run/Roen/Roem is still inhabited with few local Bandanese and Bajaus. Its nothing of real importance nowadays. I must add that just few meters from the beach, there are plenty of top notch snorkeling spots and more off coast for divers. (less)
Nishay As Adolf mentioned, there are no signs of Nathaniel or his contribution towards Banda's history on the islands even at the local museum. Maybe it was …moreAs Adolf mentioned, there are no signs of Nathaniel or his contribution towards Banda's history on the islands even at the local museum. Maybe it was never created or maybe it was destroyed by the Dutch, who knows? The part played by the Dutch in the region's history and their influences are well preserved on the island of Ambon or Amboyna as in the book. (less)

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Kinga
Jul 01, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pub-1999
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 impo
...more
Silvana
This book reminds me of Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded by Simon Winchester. An interesting book about something (major) happened in Indonesia but the author decided that the readers will be happy with many side stories that detract from the main topic.

I had the wrong expectation when I bought this book since I was expecting an account of the colonization of Banda Islands and the struggle of the natives. Instead, this book dedicates far more pages for events NOT in Banda but somewhere else
...more
Belinda
It was an interesting read. As other reviews have mentioned, this is a book one should not judge by their title. (Perhaps a better fit would have been The Dastardly Deeds of the Dutch versus the Entrepid English (pardon the typo, I'm a fan of alliteration)). Anyway, it was interesting. I'd like to think of other adjectives for it, but it was such an overwhelming collection of information. Surprisingly not very optimistic either, with a history of the failures of the English to develop a strongho ...more
Libby
Dec 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food-and-drink, spice
I love to read history. The most wonderful, improbable, intriguing stories are lurking in our history books, if we have the patience and wit to find them. Obviously, I think Giles Milton has found one of those fascinating, obscure true life adventures. Nathaniel Courthope really was an amazing heroic figure that time has consigned to forgotten dusty pages. He and the other swashbuckling characters of the East India trade are all but unknown today, but they swashed their way to creating the great ...more
GoldGato
This was a book that snuck up and surprised me. Reaching into my collection abstractedly, perchance I hit upon this volume. I had no clue about the race for the Spice Islands or just how important spices were to Europe in the 17th century. This book details the history of spices, their importance, their cost, the explorers who dared to find them, and the wars that subsequently developed because of them.

"Have you a great care to receive such nutmegs as be good, for the smallest nutmegs be worth n
...more
'Aussie Rick'
Nov 28, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history

This is an enjoyable book to read, easy to get into and hard to put down. I found the story of the Spice Trade to be quite interesting and that I suppose was a result of the hard work put in by the author. The story was fun, vibrant and quite blood-thirsty and all over a little 'nut'. This is good fun history and the story is well told. Well done to the author!
Emily
I'm marginally ill today - mild fever, slight achiness, low energy - and because of that, I'm disappointed that I've already finished Giles Milton's Nathaniel's Nutmeg: or, the True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History. Because this, my friends, is my version of the perfect home-sick-from-work book. A true story (more or less), it nonetheless reads like an old-fashioned swashbuckler, complete with bravery, treachery, derring-do, clandestine dealings, be ...more
Sarah
I have spent a good part of my reading life finishing everything I start. I can count on one hand the number of books I've started and haven't finished. To my credit, I have been a librarian for a long time and rarely do I start something that I don't think I'll like. I read too many book reviews, spend too much time on Goodreads, and pay attention to things like book awards to just randomly pick up a book off the shelf and start it. So my 99% completion rate isn't exactly that surprising.
What i
...more
Picoroco
Mar 21, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
What a ridiculous title; very little to do with Nathaniel (Courthope), and the use of the singular nutmeg just grates (if you excuse the pun).

That said, this is an interesting introduction to Western Europe's involvement in the global race to corner the spice market. Particular focus is given to the increasingly bitter and deadly rivalries of the 17th Century English and Dutch spice merchants as they vie for control of the remote archipelagos of Indonesia along with their precious crops of clov
...more
Bart Thanhauser
Jan 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
Summary:

Nathaniel’s Nutmeg is about the battle for trade supremacy in the East Indies between the Dutch and English in the late 16th, early 17th century. The book focuses on the Banda Islands—a series of tiny islands in current day Maluku, which itself is an adaptation of the Portuguese word Moluccas meaning “spiceries”. This is essentially what the islands were for European merchants: spice plantations. With waves of the plague hitting Europe and the belief that nutmeg and mace were cure-alls,
...more
Beth Cato
Apr 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: in, nonfiction, 2009, history
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 En ...more
Philip Lane
I found this very disappointing for two reasons. I had previously read Samurai William which despite its flaws I had much enjoyed and the title and tag on the cover because this book does not live up to its cover. Nathaniel's is a very minor character in the book and Milton's hypothesis that his actions changed the course of history is not properly explored or supported by the book. It is obvious that a lot of research has been done and I did pick up a large number of curious facts and was intro ...more
Sarah
Aug 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting recount of the history of English trade in the East and their battles with the Netherlands for supremacy over a small group of islands, the Bandas Islands, much coveted for their rich harvest of cloves, mace and nutmeg. Much credit must go to Milton who has managed to piece together this history despite the limited extant historical sources. This battle known as the 'spice race' which began in the late 16th century and lasted throughout the 17th century, as well as being i ...more
Stefan
Jun 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Nathaniel’s Nutmeg was a highly readable, interesting, enlightening, and exciting read. It was extremely fascinating to read about the spice race in which a large number of ships and men were lost to war and illness all over a few small isolated and backwater islands in the South Pacific. The interesting stories of forgotten explorers, soldiers, and sailors in their quest to find spices and glory amidst the uncharted vastness of the region was quite amazing. I’d never read a book on this era bef ...more
Vanessa
Dec 14, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
I do not normally read non-fiction, but my dad shoved this book into my hands after a recent visit and said "Read it" in hushed tones, as if this book contains all the hidden truths I could possibly need.

Written like fiction, it follows the start of the spice trade between Europe and the east Indian islands (Indonesia), the ultimate birth of the East India trading company and the many many battled fought over control over this area between the English, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese.
It took me a
...more
Dave Mosher
Oct 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Not a history buff by any stretch? I'm not, but this book was fantastic.

It offers a fascinating glimpse into the spice race of late 1500s and early 1600s, and how relatively few sailors seeking riches and glory set the course of history around the world.

Full of detail and primary sources -- letters of tortured sailors, greedy merchants, out-of-touch bureaucrats, etc. -- yet shockingly approachable and impossible to put down at times.

As an added note, it's a must-read for any New Yorker who wants
...more
Ann
Apr 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Extraordinary account of the spice trade and life aboard trading ships.
Gavin
Jan 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
The tale of the opening up of the Spice Islands of Indonesia. Very interesting and well written.
Theresa
If you are curious at all about the Spice Trade, or about the roots of the British and Dutch East India Companies, or how the competing interests to control the Spice Trade from the Spice Islands in Indonesia were fought, or even how it all affected the founding of Manhattan (and it did) and the ultimate control of it by Britain, this is the book for you. The depth of primary research and the clear telling of a complicated story that stretches essentially from Queen Elizabeth the I to the mid-18 ...more
Amanda Johnson
Aug 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dave Carden
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
How is this book not more popular?! The story reads like Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Marco Polo all in one.
For nearly a century, the greatest powers in Europe battled over a tiny patch of ocean on the other side of the world. Thousands of men died on the quest for spices that today we buy for pennies.
Giles Milton weaves a thrilling tale and is especially gifted at finding the best direct quotes from period letters and documents.
A must-read for any history buff!
Thomas Andrikus
Sep 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton is a historical account which neatly chronicles the race of all the major powers in Western Europe to corner the spice market. One of the most sought-after spice at that time was nutmeg, a native plant of Banda Islands, East Indies (now known as Indonesia).

Some of us might be wondering: What is nutmeg? Why was it so popular? Well, back then, it was a fruit known to kill the smell and taste of rotten meat (which is true). It was also believed to have powerful me
...more
Pamela
Mar 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant.
Kay
If I were less fond of seafaring tales, this might have been a tedious read, for the bulk of the book consists of a more-or-less chronological rendering of British voyages to the Spice Islands, with all the hardships and hazards set down in some detail. Happily, I do like seafaring tales, and even though those recounted in Nathaniel's Nutmeg became, after a time, a bit redundant, there were at the heart of the book two themes that held my interest: the origins and development of the East India C ...more
Brendan Coster
Sep 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an excellent history, focusing exclusively on the Dutch and English on the the spice trade (and, really, late 16th-early 17th century trade in general). It was an excellent treatment of the history and I think it has something for anyone historical interests, up to and including mid 17th century dutch torture methods. No seed is left un-cracked.

Wherein also lies the reason I'm knocking a star off an otherwise great history. There are so many extraneous bits and these long prosaic passag
...more
Ethicurean Reads
May 10, 2009 rated it liked it
The book is about the 16th and 17th century race to the spice islands between the European powers, primarily England and Holland, but also Spain and Portugual.

The first part of this book is engrossing, thrilling, and shocking as Milton describes the early attempts to find routes from Europe to the sources of spices like nutmeg (which was supposedly a cure for the black plague), cloves, and cinnamon. Most of these spices were exclusively grown on tiny islands that make up part of modern-day Indo
...more
Jennifer
I had such a hard time getting through this book. It was like swimming through mud. The front of the book has printed across it; "This is a book to read and reread.". Only if I was forced to reading by gunpoint would I reread this book. I did finish this book, every last word. All the way through. This book takes the award for the most mis-guided title in publishing history. The author trying to perhaps make a hero of someone that although admirable, does not deserve the sainthood status the au ...more
melydia
Dec 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
There's no denying this is a fascinating overview of the often bloody history of the spice trade in the 16th and 17th centuries, focusing largely on Run in the Banda Islands. I don't really agree with the premise, though, that a man who fought and failed to keep Run in the hands of the British had anything to do with the eventual acquisition of New Amsterdam. That said, the rest of the book is pretty gripping. There's a lot of "Yay for the English, Boo for the Dutch" going on, to the point where ...more
Ann
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: america, history
In this lively account, Milton tells the history of the spice trade, especially involving nutmeg and mace in the 16th and 17th centuries. The book gives good detail based on ship logs, original accounts, and letters of the expansion of trade including shifts in the interactions of European nations, piracy, international politics, expansion of naval navigation, and the search for a northwest and a northeast passage with all the intrigue and political maneuvering this entailed. The book includes s ...more
Tom
Jul 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
A delightful history of the early history of the South East Asia spice trade in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Milton uses texts from the British and Dutch East India Trading companies to bring alive the heroic and villainous traders, captains, crew-members, and natives in what was an extremely dangerous part of the world at the time.

The book focuses on the Banda Islands, home of the world's only nutmeg trees in this period. Milton interweaves the exciting tales of various voyages and
...more
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British writer and journalist Giles Milton was born in Buckinghamshire in 1966. He has contributed articles for most of the British national newspapers as well as many foreign publications, and specializes in the history of travel and exploration. In the course of his researches, he has traveled extensively in Europe, the Middle East, Japan and the Far East, and the Americas.

Knowledgeable, insati
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There is nothing like reading a history or biography book and being so completely transported to another time and place that you find...
57 likes · 18 comments
“The local natives were particularly curious to know why the English required such huge quantities of pepper and there was much scratching of heads until it was finally agreed that English houses were so cold that the walls were plastered with crushed pepper in order to produce heat.” 6 likes
“In the Banda Islands, ten pounds of nutmeg cost less than one English penny. In London, that same spice sold for more than £2.10s. – a mark-up of a staggering 60,000 per cent. A small sackful was enough to set a man up for life, buying him a gabled dwelling in Holborn and a servant to attend to his needs” 5 likes
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