Holland and the Spice Islands of the East Indies form the ""Cradle of Colonialism"" of this vast book, which tells of the efforts of Spain, Portugal, England and Holland to establish a spice monopoly in the 16th and 17th centuries, and of the victory of the Dutch over their rivals. The struggle for pepper and other spices, valued beyond gold, began with the discovery of the East Indies in the 16th century by Spain and Portugal; by the end of the century Portugal had established a spice monopoly threatened less by Spain than by English traders and Dutch merchant adventurers. In 1595 the Dutch, after failing to reach the Indies by way of the Arctic, sailed around Africa to the Spice Islands and collected a supply of pepper; soon afterwards far-seeing Dutch financiers formed the first joint-stock company in history, the Dutch East India Company, ruled by a Committee of 17, to promote the trade. Under Company rule the Dutch explored the known world, drove the Spanish and Portuguese traders from the Spice Islands, forced the English to withdraw to India, and by 1630 had established their own monopoly in pepper, nutmeg, mace and cloves. Nothing pertaining to the spice trade then is omitted. Here are political histories; ship-building, navigation and bookkeeping; biographies of explorers and merchants; religious persecutions; bickerings of bankers and sea captains; the cut-throat rivalries of traders. Weighty in every sense of the word-except for the capacity for sustained interest- its mere scope should not be allowed to discourage ordinary readers. It comes to grips with a subject on a scale never before attempted.