A vividly told story of a common spice’s uncommon history.



Science writer and former business reporter Shaffer traces the action-packed, often bloody trail of black pepper from its uses in ancient times as a cure-all to the intense rivalries among the Portuguese, Dutch and English to control the pepper trade in Indonesia to the rise of 19th-century American pepper merchants.

This is not so much a culinary history as it is a compelling account of commerce and power that laid the groundwork for empire building. Common on every household table today, pepper was more valuable than gold or silver in the Middle Ages. Europeans loved it, but only the wealthy could afford the pungent seasoning. It wasn’t until the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in 1498 that a sea route to India and China opened up the pepper trade to Europeans, leading to what Shaffer describes as the “pernicious twined branches, colonialism and imperialism,” perpetuated by the English and Dutch East India companies. Using first-person accounts from journals and ships’ logs, Shaffer crafts a textured story of exploration, danger, wealth and greed. Readers will find adventures on the high seas, pirates, ambitious Jesuits, sultans living in opulence and the plunder of what was once considered a “Garden of Eden.” Like all good stories, Shaffer’s has its honorable and dishonorable characters, including the English pirate William Dampier, who couldn’t stomach the cruel treatment of the “Malayans” by the British; Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the “brutal governor-general” of the Dutch trading company; and the English traveler Peter Mundy, whose journals and drawings captured the people and exotic beauty of Sumatra. The author also discusses the botanical and medicinal characteristics of the pepper plant. The included maps are most welcome, but some readers may also want a current world map at hand for reference.

A vividly told story of a common spice’s uncommon history.

Pub Date: April 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-56989-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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