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Sugar: The world corrupted, from slavery to obesity

3.46  ·  Rating details ·  306 ratings  ·  69 reviews
The story of sugar, and of mankind's desire for sweetness in food and drink is a compelling, though confusing story. It is also an historical story.

The story of mankind's love of sweetness - the need to consume honey, cane sugar, beet sugar and chemical sweeteners - has important historical origins. To take a simple example, two centuries ago, cane sugar was vital to the b
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published July 13th 2017 by Robinson (first published July 11th 2017)
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Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I was a little bit disappointed with this book. I have been doing a lot of reading on both the history and health impact of sugar lately, and there are many other books on these topics that I would recommend over this one. I felt that the author was going around in circles since there was a lot of repetition and overlap between chapters. At the end of it I didn't really feel that the book had gone anywhere meaningful with its arguments and that the information presented was fairly unoriginal. Th ...more
Crystal King
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is an incredible history of how the introduction of sugar has changed so much of our world. I was surprised to learn how little I knew about how this little ingredient came to be. Meticulously research, this book brings the reader from the 15th century up through the modern world, covering the depth of the slave trade to the way that sugar has impacted global health and how governments have gone out of their way to protect the sugar trade to the detriment of millions. I was truly shocked at ...more
Clare O'Beara
This book about sugar is not really about sugar; it should be called, What we did with sugar. We get no botanical description, no analysis of the soil types needed, light levels, root depths, pests, colours of stems in different varieties, no pictures except on the book covers. The author is a historian but not a botanist. He assumes we all know what he knows so well from researching the history of a sugar plantation; but for people who have seen something looking like bamboo on the tv once or t ...more
Erica Clou
While it did get better starting around chapter 11, there was not a lot of new information here. I didn’t think the tone regarding slavery was appropriate. The author discussed it in a very matter of fact way. If you’re going to discuss how sugar contributed to an increase in slavery then you better discuss the horrors and the long-term consequences of that horror otherwise the entire point of discussing it is lost. To a lesser degree, the author also did this with the nutritional effects of sug ...more
The Pfaeffle Journal (Diane)
3.5 last 4 chapters were unnecessary otherwise an interesting read.
Wei Li
Mar 23, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
It was a chore getting through this book. Not because the topic was uninteresting, but because of the clumsy writing (I mean, "...buying supportive scientific support." Really?), the circuitous points, the strange structure. Some factoids were so interesting, they are repeated several times like a broken record player.

It really is frustrating. The books gives us facts and figures but does an insufficient job in dissecting them. It is also a little difficult to care when it is apparent on the ou
Jul 06, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The history of sugar was fascinating, which covered around 2/3 of the book. The final 1/3 of the book could be summarized in two words: eat healthy.
Thomas Isern
Mar 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: agriculture
Preparing a lecture on sugar for my class in agricultural history, I made heavy use of both this work by Walvin and the older classic by Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power. The Mintz work is more overtly one of scholarship and also more ideological, reflecting the Marxist cast of the its author. Walvin and Mintz are complementary, however, in that they both depict sugar as a social evil, but each focuses on different times and people. Mintz presents us with the bitter irony that sugar came from a ...more
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book is worth reading and charts the history of our dependence on and relationship to sugar, from its use in medicines in earlier societies, its close association with the transatlantic slave trade to the detrimental impact it is having on our health in modern society.
The coverage of sugar production and its derivatives during the slave trade is relatively detailed.
The author also outlines the widespread adoption of this substance as a flavouring in our foods. While obesity is one of the
Oct 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

“We should remember that we found the island full of people, whom we erased from the face of the earth, filling it with dogs and beasts.”

So wrote Las Casas, summing up the damage inflicted upon the Caribbean by white Europeans. Although we will never know the exact number of people living in the Caribbean when Europeans first appeared, apparently the most accurate figures suggest that there were around 2 million living in the region, “within a century, all had vanished.”

From cavity ridden royals
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I was inspired to read this after visiting a former sugar cane plantation in Louisiana and hearing about how literally back-breaking it was for enslaved people to work. And *wow*, the subtitle "the world corrupted" is certainly right. For such a simple little thing, sugar has certainly put millions of the people on both ends of the misery/delight scale. Informative. ...more
Alyxandra Cox
We all no i like a good food related book.
Both this was so boring and i didn't learn anything at all.
just a to long book report on sugar.
Jonathan Monnet
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some of the factors surrounding this world changing ingredient were known to me before reading but the author brings it all together perfectly. From slavery to the obesity epidemic sugar is there. From Caribbean plantations to the forced annexation of the Hawaii islands its there again. Never knew that so many historical events and present challenges were caused by our collective sweet tooth. Sure that it wont be the last.
Bret James Stewart
James Walvin has done a great job with this book. He manages to capture the historical influence of sugar along with the reasons we love to eat it. It is well-written and beautifully designed.

The book covers sugar history throughout the world. The author is an Englishman, so the focus is the UK and the US, but other areas are not ignored. He argues that the global sugar trade has greatly impacted all societies associated with it. As the title implies, slavery is a large concern for the periods i
Jan 26, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: health, food, slavery
From the first paragraph this is a poorly written and incredibly repetitive book. (He uses the word "shop" three times in the first two sentences?) It's like a bad college term paper, verbose but lacking content. This is a British guy trying to explain how America hooked the world on sugar but he's out of touch with realities of this country, writing from an academic perspective instead of a practical one. To blame much of it on breakfast cereals and sodas is simplistic. Then to hear him lecture ...more
Jan 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this book was an eye-opener, though it took a while for it to really pick up steam. It talks about the history of sugar-how it became a precious commodity that was granted government subsidies and protection. It also mentioned how it affected demographics- slave trade and workers’ migration to lands. It mentions how government intervened and became an unknowing marketer for soda companies. This book touches on a lot of things that will make readers rethink their relationship with sugar. ...more
Holly Senecal
Feb 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book needs to make its way into main stream media of every kind and be read by students studying health, environmental issues, human development, I could go on... So well done and so obviously relevant in our world today that I would not hesitate to recommend Sugar by James Walvin to anyone whether they're mainly nonfiction readers or not. I enjoyed reading it and learned a lot while doing so. It rightfully earned its 5 stars from this reader. ...more
Aug 18, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
First half where he talks about the slave trade is super interesting, but when he dives into obesity in the second half, it is boring and uninteresting. It's two books--one very good, the other one banal. ...more
Jul 26, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting, but repetitive.
Descendant of Reader
With 'slavery' mentioned in the title, it is easy to assume that 'The World Corrupted' would predominantly rest its arguments on the 16th - 19th c. trans-Atlantic slave trade when arguing the historical significance of sugar. However, James Walvin is far more thorough in arguing the role of sugar in human economics and the formation of modern dietary habits and the current unprecedented health epidemics.

Reaching back into ancient history, Walvin explores the way in which humans have sought to sa
Giulia Held
Dec 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book, unsurprisingly, is about the history of sugar. Known to us as such a simple commodity, yet with such a deep and complex history. I read this book so avidly, I simply couldn’t get enough! This book gives a detailed analysis of the history and expansion of sugar from early Islamic culture to our current obesity epidemic. Walvin also speaks about how the slave trade revolutionised what we think of sugar; the mere presence of a sugar bowl was a sign of immense wealth. The slave trade conv ...more
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
There are some good reviews already on Goodreads making valid criticisms of this book, usually scoring a 3 star. I give it 4 because despite the flaws, this is a topic I am hungry (pun intended) for more information on.

I heard rumours about the slavery history of sugar 23 years ago, before that, i had no hint of the political aspect of this 'food stuff'. I have been on an odd journey of renunciation, giving up tobacco, alcohol and more recently caffeine. Sugar is my next personal development pro
Mar 24, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would recommend this book for high schoolers or people wanting an entry to the topic of sugar & slavery, or just slavery in general, it does provide some useful facts. I didn't actually get to the obesity portion of the book. The problem for me is that the book didn't go deep enough into its subject material, a whole chapter was devoted to the destruction of the native peoples & environment of the Caribbean islands but no mention was made of any specific animal. Don't sloths live in Jamaica? I ...more
I liked the history part of this book a lot. Good information. Many pages devoted to the slavery aspect and other economic issues. We are reminded that other countries besides the US were tied to a slave-driven economy.

Disappointments in this section: I wish Walvin had spent more than parts of 4 pages on HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup) and more space overall on artificial sweetners. But a solid 4 stars for the history chapters.

I felt Walvin spent too much time on the health-related chapters. I g
Joe Stack
Desserts. An additive and an addiction. Obesity. Slavery. Environmental destruction. Mass migration (forced). Dental trouble. This is a thoughtful history of nutrition and the the politics and the transformation of sugar from being a luxury for the rich to a product that is an addiction for the masses fueling the globalization of obesity. While I found some repetition and statistics that I think may have been more useful if presented in a table format, the author’s examination of the influence o ...more
Rachel Crofts
Sugar (...) tells the history of Sugar in the (mainly) Western world from it's origins to the early years of the 21st Century, tracking its cost in human and economic terms as it becomes the ubiquitous commodity that sugar is today.

Walvin's tale is well structured, and contains plenty of fascinating facts. You sense that here is an academic with a real passion for his subject; however that subject may well have been the history of sugar as it pertains to the Caribbean and the slave trade, rathe
May 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-popsugar
A solid readable micro history that traced the rise and spread of the sugar industry, plus the possible beginning of its decline. I was well aware of its human toll- slavery being the worst, but also dental decay, migrant workers and obesity. But this book opened my eyes to the environmental toll as large sugar plantations replaced natural habitats in the Caribbean and later degraded and threatened the Everglades ecosystem in Florida. The book highlighted the connection between sugar and politic ...more
Dan Castrigano
Pretty bad in the first 2/3, but the last 1/3 was interesting to read. The last third was about obesity, soft drinks, and health care systems. Walvin, whose body of work mostly covers transatlantic slavery, expands the first part of the book unnecessarily. It reads like an 8th grader who is practicing the organization of their essay - like the "concluding paragraph" of each chapter doesn't really offer any analysis or insight - it's just a straightforward summary with similar-sounding sentences ...more
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James Walvin taught for many years at the University of York where he is now Professor of History Emeritus. He also held visiting positions in the Caribbean, the U.S.A. and Australia. He won the prestigious Martin Luther King Memorial Prize for his book Black and White, and has published widely on the history of slavery and the slave trade. His book The People's Game was a pioneering study of the ...more

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