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Bittersweet: The Story of Sugar by Peter Macinnis

BittersweetI know what you’re thinking: what is with this girl and addictive white powders?

Anyway, do you remember how one of my issues with Mark Kurlansky’s book on salt was that he made unsubstantiated declarations about how salt influenced history? Well Peter Macinnis totally avoids that issue in this book. Translation: this book is the bee’s knees!

Macinnis starts out by saying that sugar played an important part in history but – had it never been discovered – some other valuable product could just as easily taken its place in this story (XIII). The reason I love this statement is because Macinnis acknowledges just how much of a role chance plays in history: huge. Then, as kind of a warning to his readers (and to all people who study history), Macinnis makes the following statement:

It is better to look at what evil men have done, in an effort to ensure that we do not repeat it, than to look upon past evils with a sanctimonious superiority. We are different, but it is doubtful we are that much better, for few things change as little as human nature. (XIV)

What?! I know! What a punishing yet truthful statement.

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Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

Salt: A World HistoryReading this book cemented two things in my mind:

1) The public school system failed me when it comes to geography,

and

2) The French steal.

Wait. Hold on. It’s not fair to make blanket statements like that. I guess I failed myself with respect to geography. There, I feel better.

I expected to learn interesting facts about the history of salt from this book and that is exactly what I got. But it was a little heavy-handed. I mean, I was with Kurlansky when he talked about how salt has historically been an important commodity because of how much revenue it could produce when taxed. Think about it: is there really any meal that you eat that doesn’t contain salt? Do you have a salt shaker sitting on some surface in your home in relative proximity to eatables? You betcha! So when ancient Chinese emperors decided to tax salt as a way to finance their army, they were on to something. And when various rebellions and coups caused emperors to come to power who didn’t tax salt, it took them very few years to realize that taxing salt = force needed to stay in power. So salt = power. Follow Kurlansky? I did!

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Posted by on July 10, 2011 in Book Reviews, History / Politics

 

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