The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies by Matthew Parker | Paperback | Barnes & Noble
The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies
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The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies

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by Matthew Parker
     
 

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To those who travel there today, the West Indies are unspoiled paradise islands. Yet that image conceals a turbulent and shocking history. For some two hundred years after 1650, the West Indies were the strategic center of the Western world's greatest power struggles as Europeans made and lost immense fortunes growing and trading in sugar-a commodity so lucrative

Overview

To those who travel there today, the West Indies are unspoiled paradise islands. Yet that image conceals a turbulent and shocking history. For some two hundred years after 1650, the West Indies were the strategic center of the Western world's greatest power struggles as Europeans made and lost immense fortunes growing and trading in sugar-a commodity so lucrative it became known as "white gold." Matthew Parker vividly chronicles how the wealth of her island colonies became the foundation and focus of England's commercial and imperial greatness, underpinning the British economy and ultimately fueling the Industrial Revolution. Yet with the incredible wealth came untold misery: the horror endured by slaves, on whose backs the sugar empire was brutally built; the rampant disease that claimed the lives of one-third of all whites within three years of arrival in the Caribbean; the cruelty, corruption, and decadence of the plantation culture. Broad in scope, rich in detail, The Sugar Barons freshly links the histories of Europe, the West Indies, and North America and reveals the full impact of the sugar revolution, the resonance of which is still felt today.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Tiny Caribbean islands generate outsized wealth, influence, and cruelty in this gripping history of the British West Indies. Historian Parker (Panama Fever) recounts the heyday of the planters of Barbados, Jamaica, and the Leeward Islands who made sugarcane cultivation into a fabulously profitable agribusiness from the 17th to 19th centuries. The riches their plantations generated made them imperial power brokers, provoked wars—in settling the French and Indian War, France gave up Canada to regain the minute sugar island of Guadeloupe—and sparked a culinary revolution. But Britain's glittering West Indian colonies were also some of history's most appalling societies, the author notes. A tiny minority of whites worked the islands' black slave laborers to death and meted out brutality and violence—Parker's accounts of atrocities inflicted on slaves are extremely disturbing—at the slightest disobedience. This is a rousing, fluently written narrative history, full of color, dash, and forceful personalities, but it's also a subtle social portrait of plantation life and governance: its live fast, die young ethos as Europeans dropped like flies from tropical diseases. Parker's vivid evocation of the elite evokes the queasy moral rot beneath la dolce vita. Photos. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
A rich, multifaceted account. . . . Parker achieves admirable clarity and focus in this . . . complicated story of the sugar revolution." —Kirkus
Library Journal
Parker (Panama Fever) traces the social, political, and economic history of the sugar trade in the British West Indies from the 17th to the 19th centuries through the stories of several families who ran enormous plantations with indentured and slave labor and amassed great wealth. Along with harrowing tales of the extreme hazards of harvesting sugarcane, the author also conjures incongruous images of the conspicuous consumption by the landowners who insisted on wearing full European wardrobes (wool coats and wigs) in tropical climates. In this concise volume, Parker manages to cover disease, race relations, slave rebellions, imperial rivalry, and more, leaving the reader impressed by his command of the sources—many of which are letters and diaries of the plantation owners and their visitors—and the comprehensiveness of the treatment. VERDICT Successful both as a scholarly introduction to the topic and as an entertaining narrative, this is recommended for readers of any kind of history. (Illustrations not seen.)—Megan Hahn Fraser, Univ. of California, Los Angeles, Lib.
Kirkus Reviews

A rich, multifaceted account of the greed and slavery bolstering the rise of England's mercantile empire.

Considering the myriad international influences that vied for predominance in the West Indies, London-based author Parker (Panama Fever: The Epic Story of One of the Greatest Human Achievements of All Time-- the Building of the Panama Canal, 2008, etc.) wisely focuses on the pioneer British dynasties that built the sugar empires on Barbados and the English Leeward islands, such as the related Drax and Codrington clans, and later on Jamaica, the Beckfords. Sugar production was not initially an English enterprise—from New Guinea to India, Persia to North Africa, sugar-cane cultivation was carried ever westward by the Arabs, Spanish and especially the Portuguese, the last who "put to cane" the islands of Madeira, Principe and the vast colony of Brazil to corner the sugar market by the early 17th century. The enterprising Dutch elbowed into Barbados by the 1640s, creating the ideal conditions whereby James Drax, an Anglican immigrant, would learn by trial and error how to coax the fabulous new crop in the rich soil. Barbados became a magnet for the dumping of indentured servants, dissidents and the disaffected during the reign of Charles I, followed by refugees from the English Civil War, many of whom perished by ill treatment and disease within three years of arriving. However, sugar production was labor-intensive, and blacks from West Africa—already long established as labor within Portuguese possessions—were imported, apparently hardier and more tractable than the native Caribs. Parker delves skillfully into the important effects of the English Civil War, such as the passage of the Navigation Act of 1651, which created a formal system of mercantilism to benefit England's home vessels and ports; even Oliver Cromwell masterminded a "western design" into Hispaniola and Jamaica, to less-than-successful effect. Still, the English dug in, and their treatment of slaves to wring profits from vast plantations was predictably harsh and deplorable.

Parker achieves admirable clarity and focus in this sprawling, ugly, complicated story of the sugar revolution.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802777980
Publisher:
Walker & Company
Publication date:
11/13/2012
Pages:
464
Sales rank:
315,758
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.40(d)

Meet the Author

Matthew Parker was born in Central America and spent part of his childhood in the West Indies, acquiring a lifelong fascination with the history of the region. He is the author of Panama Fever, the story of the building of the Panama Canal, and Monte Cassino: The Hardest Fought Battle of World War II. He lives in London. Visit his website at www.matthewparker.co.uk.

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The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is very well written and an excellent history of the region. It provides and outstanding reference as to why the "new world" experienced the racial difficulties that it has.
gernamgmer More than 1 year ago
This is the worst book I have ever read. There are so many Grammatical errors. Do not buy! I could only read five pages before I had to stop.
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