THE SCENTS OF EDEN

A NARRATIVE OF THE SPICE TRADE

A lucid and comprehensive account spanning the nearly four centuries of international intrigue and bloody struggle for control of the vast riches of the Spice Islands. At the dawn of the 16th century, the group of islands astride the equator to the east of Java known as the Moluccas became the stage for the first major colonial conflict played out by the seagoing European powers, and as Corn (Distant Islands: Crossing Indonesia's Ring of Fire, 1991) ably relates, the prizes were the most valuable commodities on earth: nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and later pepper. The Spanish were the first beneficiaries of a cargo of spices brought by the remaining ship of Magellan's last voyage, but it was the Portuguese, urged on by figures such as the Jesuit Francis Xavier, who militarily first took control of the spice trade. Control over the region was finally wrested in the early 17th century by the tyrannical Dutch East India Company, responsible for the massacre of 14,000 of the 15,000 inhabitants of the Banda Islands, the richest spice-producing islands in the East Indies. The final section of Corn's study focuses on the merchants of Salem, who carried on a fantastically lucrative trade in pepper with the canny and often treacherous rajahs on Sumatra. As in most good history books, readers will be challenged by a wealth of revelatory arcana; for instance, unbelievably, until the mid-18th century botanists believed that plants native to one region could not be grown anywhere else; as part of the treaty eliminating England as a player in the Moluccas, Holland traded New Amsterdam- -later Manhattan—to the English for a tiny island two miles long and a half mile wide. This is as pleasurable and eye-opening a history as one would hope for, generous in its descriptions of exotic islands and exciting in its depictions of the men who made fortunes in their waters. (maps)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-56836-202-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Kodansha

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1997

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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