Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science

Overview

When this award-winning husband-and-wife team discovered that they each had sugar in their family history, they were inspired to trace the globe-spanning story of the sweet substance and to seek out the voices of those who led bitter sugar lives. The trail ran like a bright band from religious ceremonies in India to Europe’s Middle Ages, then on to Columbus, who brought the first cane cuttings to the Americas. Sugar was the substance that drove the bloody slave trade and caused the loss of countless lives but it ...

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Overview

When this award-winning husband-and-wife team discovered that they each had sugar in their family history, they were inspired to trace the globe-spanning story of the sweet substance and to seek out the voices of those who led bitter sugar lives. The trail ran like a bright band from religious ceremonies in India to Europe’s Middle Ages, then on to Columbus, who brought the first cane cuttings to the Americas. Sugar was the substance that drove the bloody slave trade and caused the loss of countless lives but it also planted the seeds of revolution that led to freedom in the American colonies, Haiti, and France. With songs, oral histories, maps, and over 80 archival illustrations, here is the story of how one product allows us to see the grand currents of world history in new ways. Time line, source notes, bibliography, index.

A 2012 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is fine historical writing: an epic story on a broad canvas that never loses sight of individual moments of human drama; a historical methodology infused with political, intellectual, cultural, and social strands; a complex sequence of cause and effect; an illuminating synthesis of primary and secondary sources; and a thoughtful marriage of words, picture, and design."—Horn Book, starred review  

"Covering 10,000 years of history and ranging the world, the story is made personal by the authors' own family stories, their passion for the subject and their conviction that young people are up to the challenge of complex, well-written narrative history."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review  

"As the title suggests, this stirring, highly detailed history of the sugar trade reaches across time and around the globe . . . The book's scope is ambitious, but the clear, informal prose, along with maps and archival illustrations, makes the horrific connections with dramatic immediacy."—Booklist

"This is a poignant, ultimately hopeful essay that clearly chronicles the human pursuit of sugar to satisfy our collective sweet tooth."—The Bulletin

"An impassioned, thought-provoking account that forces us to look anew at the things we take for granted."—Jennifer Brown, Shelf Awareness

"This book, at once serious and engaging, traces the complex history of sugar over vast expanses of time and space, exploring ways in which this one commodity influenced the formation of empires, the enslavement and migrations of peoples, the development of ideas about liberty, and so much more."—Deborah Warner, Curator, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC

VOYA - Debbie Wenk
The authors begin with stories of how their separate families' histories are tied to the story of sugar. One author's ancestors were originally from India but worked the sugar plantations of Guyana, and the other author is a descendant of a Ukrainian serf who was instrumental in popularizing the use of beets as a source of sugar. The discovery of sugar in ancient times is detailed, and the uses of sugar are traced from religious rituals to spice and finally as a sweetener for desserts and beverages, such as coffee, hot chocolate, and most significantly, tea. Producing sugar from cane required massive cheap labor and resulted in the transport first of Africans to the Caribbean as slaves, and later indentured laborers from India to perform the brutal work. Napoleon's wish to compete in the world sugar market led to the popularization of sugar beets and opened people's eyes to other forms of sweetener beyond cane sugar. This is an unusual approach to world history—using the discovery, popularization, and demand for a commodity as catalyst for such significant events as Gandhi's movement of passive resistance. A time line helps to clarify the connection, and appropriate illustrations, maps, and photographs add to the narrative. Much of the book's focus is on the enslavement of various peoples and their subsequent quest for freedom. A fine addition to secondary school libraries, the book would serve as a unique resource for research on several historical and/or social topics. Reviewer: Debbie Wenk
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—This meticulously researched, brutally honest, compelling book offers readers a different way to look at many events over the past 200 years or so. The title says it all. From the slave trade through abolition; from revolutions (American, French, and Haitian) to the Louisiana Purchase; from the decline of honey to the rise of saccharine, these events and many more are directly traced to the cultivation and production of sugar cane around the world. With a focus on slavery, Aronson and Budhos demonstrate how this one crop, with its unique harvesting needs, helped to bring about a particularly brutal incarnation of slavery. What makes this such a captivating read is that the book has a jigsaw-puzzle feel as the authors connect seemingly disparate threads and bring readers to the larger picture by highlighting the smaller details hidden within. Primary-source materials such as photographs, interview excerpts, and maps are included throughout, making this an indispensable part of any history collection. The chapter entitled "How We Researched and Wrote This Book" will be of particular interest to teachers and librarians.—Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA
Kirkus Reviews

From 1600 to the 1800s, sugar drove the economies of Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa and did more "to reshape the world than any ruler, empire, or war had ever done." Millions of people were taken from Africa and enslaved to work the sugar plantations throughout the Caribbean, worked to death to supply the demand for sugar in Europe. Aronson and Budhos make a case for Africans as not just victims but "true global citizens....the heralds of [our] interconnected world," and they explain how, ironically, the Age of Sugar became the Age of Freedom. Maps, photographs and archival illustrations, all with captions that are informative in their own right, richly complement the text, and superb documentation and an essay addressed to teachers round out the fascinating volume. Covering 10,000 years of history and ranging the world, the story is made personal by the authors' own family stories, their passion for the subject and their conviction that young people are up to the challenge of complex, well-written narrative history. (timelines, Web guide to color images, acknowledgments, notes and sources, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 12 & up)

Abby McGanney Nolan
…eye-opening…one of the book's great strengths is the way it explains how millions of people became a moveable commodity.
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618574926
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 11/15/2010
  • Pages: 166
  • Sales rank: 45,541
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 1130L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.40 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Marc Aronson has won many awards and prizes for his books, including the first Sibert Award and the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for Sir Walter Ralegh and the Quest for Eldorado. Marina Budhos is an assistant professor of English at William Paterson University. She is the author of Ask Me No Questions, winner of the inaugural James Cook Teen Book Award. She and her husband live with their two sons in Maplewood, New Jersey.

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