The Back of the Book: Much like oil today, sugar was once the most powerful commodity on earth. It shaped world affairs, influencing the economic policies of nations, driving international trade and wreaking environmental havoc. The Western world’s addiction to sugar came at a terrible human cost: the near extinction of the New World indigenous peoples gave rise to a new form of slavery, as millions of captured Africans were crammed into ships to make the dangerous voyage to Caribbean cane plantations.
What began as the extraordinarily expensive luxury of nobles and the very wealthy has become a staple in the modern world. Indeed, it played its own role in creating that world, fuelling the workers of the Industrial Revolution, and giving rise to the craze for fast food. Sugar: A Bittersweet History tells the extraordinary, dramatic and thought-provoking story of this most commonplace of products from its very origins to the present day.
Elizabeth Abbott examines how and in what quantities we still consume sugar; its role in the crisis of obesity and diabetes; how its cultivation continues to affect the environment; and how coerced labour continues in so many sugar-producing nations. Richly detailed, impeccably researched and thoroughly compelling, Sugar is a comprehensive social history of a substance that has revolutionised the way we eat, and poignant testimony to the suffering endured in the name of satisfying the world’s sweet tooth.
Elizabeth Abbott is Research Associate at Trinity College, University of Toronto and, from 1991 to 2004, was Dean of Women. She is the author of several books, including A History of Mistresses and A History of Celibacy. She lives in Toronto.
NotJustLaura’s Review: Although this is a book about sugar, one might also describe it as ‘a book about slavery.’ I had no idea. I had no idea at all that the infrastructure which satisfies my sweet tooth was built on slavery and, latterly, indentured servitude. I had no idea of the brutality and deprivation involved. I had no idea of the scale. I had no idea of the influence wielded by the sugar lobby. I really had no idea.
I bought this book to assist my dieting efforts. I thought it would tell me why too much sugar is bad for me. Instead, it has explained why so much sugar is bad for other people and has indeed left me with a bitter taste to swallow.