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SPICE

THE 16TH-CENTURY CONTEST THAT SHAPED THE MODERN WORLD

Crowley has the knack of turning fragments into a mosaic, and his latest book is another colorful, sweeping saga.

An engaging study of the first era of globalization, focused on the spice trade.

British historian Crowley has written a series of well-regarded, popular books about European history, including City of Fortune, Conquerors, and Accursed Tower. In his latest, the author keenly dissects the 16th-century contest between Portugal and Spain to capture the lucrative spice trade, even though it meant traversing the globe. Their competition, writes Crowley, was “a great game that literally shaped the world.” In the early 1500s, a trickle of nutmeg, cloves, and mace had found its way to Europe and sparked huge demand, but their origin was a mystery. Exploratory voyages led to a small archipelago known as the Moluccas, located in what is now eastern Indonesia and the only source of the spices at the time. In 1494, Portugal and Spain had divided the southeast region of Asia—with no regard to the Indigenous populations—with a north-south line via the Treaty of Tordesillas. However, there was no concrete way to judge longitude or effectively enforce the treaty. Both the Portuguese and the Spanish sought to build on the region's existing trade networks as well as export spices back to Europe, and the silver mined from Spanish-controlled mines led to a vast expansion of commerce. In short, Europe and Asia had become tied together, and in a span of less than 80 years. The narrative could easily have become lost on the vast canvas, but Crowley, a consummate storyteller, has the experience to keep control of it, and he capably juggles the large cast of characters. He also peppers the book with illuminating maps and illustrations, creating a fascinating examination of a significant period in world history.

Crowley has the knack of turning fragments into a mosaic, and his latest book is another colorful, sweeping saga.

Pub Date: May 14, 2024

ISBN: 978-0300267471

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2024

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GENGHIS KHAN AND THE MAKING OF THE MODERN WORLD

A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.

“The Mongols swept across the globe as conquerors,” writes the appreciative pop anthropologist-historian Weatherford (The History of Money, 1997, etc.), “but also as civilization’s unrivaled cultural carriers.”

No business-secrets fluffery here, though Weatherford does credit Genghis Khan and company for seeking “not merely to conquer the world but to impose a global order based on free trade, a single international law, and a universal alphabet with which to write all the languages of the world.” Not that the world was necessarily appreciative: the Mongols were renowned for, well, intemperance in war and peace, even if Weatherford does go rather lightly on the atrocities-and-butchery front. Instead, he accentuates the positive changes the Mongols, led by a visionary Genghis Khan, brought to the vast territories they conquered, if ever so briefly: the use of carpets, noodles, tea, playing cards, lemons, carrots, fabrics, and even a few words, including the cheer hurray. (Oh, yes, and flame throwers, too.) Why, then, has history remembered Genghis and his comrades so ungenerously? Whereas Geoffrey Chaucer considered him “so excellent a lord in all things,” Genghis is a byword for all that is savage and terrible; the word “Mongol” figures, thanks to the pseudoscientific racism of the 19th century, as the root of “mongoloid,” a condition attributed to genetic throwbacks to seed sown by Mongol invaders during their decades of ravaging Europe. (Bad science, that, but Dr. Down’s son himself argued that imbeciles “derived from an earlier form of the Mongol stock and should be considered more ‘pre-human, rather than human.’ ”) Weatherford’s lively analysis restores the Mongols’ reputation, and it takes some wonderful learned detours—into, for instance, the history of the so-called Secret History of the Mongols, which the Nazis raced to translate in the hope that it would help them conquer Russia, as only the Mongols had succeeded in doing.

A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.

Pub Date: March 2, 2004

ISBN: 0-609-61062-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2003

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A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN TWELVE SHIPWRECKS

Gibbins combines historical knowledge with a sense of adventure, making this book a highly enjoyable package.

A popular novelist turns his hand to historical writing, focusing on what shipwrecks can tell us.

There’s something inherently romantic about shipwrecks: the mystery, the drama of disaster, the prospect of lost treasure. Gibbins, who’s found acclaim as an author of historical fiction, has long been fascinated with them, and his expertise in both archaeology and diving provides a tone of solid authority to his latest book. The author has personally dived on more than half the wrecks discussed in the book; for the other cases, he draws on historical records and accounts. “Wrecks offer special access to history at all…levels,” he writes. “Unlike many archaeological sites, a wreck represents a single event in which most of the objects were in use at that time and can often be closely dated. What might seem hazy in other evidence can be sharply defined, pointing the way to fresh insights.” Gibbins covers a wide variety of cases, including wrecks dating from classical times; a ship torpedoed during World War II; a Viking longship; a ship of Arab origin that foundered in Indonesian waters in the ninth century; the Mary Rose, the flagship of the navy of Henry VIII; and an Arctic exploring vessel, the Terror (for more on that ship, read Paul Watson’s Ice Ghost). Underwater excavation often produces valuable artifacts, but Gibbins is equally interested in the material that reveals the society of the time. He does an excellent job of placing each wreck within a broader context, as well as examining the human elements of the story. The result is a book that will appeal to readers with an interest in maritime history and who would enjoy a different, and enlightening, perspective.

Gibbins combines historical knowledge with a sense of adventure, making this book a highly enjoyable package.

Pub Date: April 2, 2024

ISBN: 9781250325372

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2024

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