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Spice: The History of a Temptationby Jack Turner
"Turner...combines erudition with a breezy style. His research is contemporary enough to draw on the Internet and cable television. But it also extends back as far as an archive of ancient clay tablets caught in a house fire in Syria around 1721....In this telling, the spice trade itself is implicitly a sort of proto-Internet over which the traffic was not in bytes but in grains, and it went forth much more slowly. Spice is history that hits home." Ruth Walker, The Christian Science Monitor (read the entire Christian Science Monitor review)
Synopses & Reviews
A brilliant, original history of the spice trade — and the appetites that fueled it.
It was in search of the fabled Spice Islands and their cloves that Magellan charted the first circumnavigation of the globe. Vasco da Gama sailed the dangerous waters around Africa to India on a quest for Christians — and spices. Columbus sought gold and pepper but found the New World. By the time these fifteenth- and sixteenth-century explorers set sail, the aromas of these savory, seductive seeds and powders had tempted the palates and imaginations of Europe for centuries.
Spice: The History of a Temptation is a history of the spice trade told not in the conventional narrative of politics and economics, nor of conquest and colonization, but through the intimate human impulses that inspired and drove it. Here is an exploration of the centuries-old desire for spice in food, in medicine, in magic, in religion, and in sex — and of the allure of forbidden fruit lingering in the scents of cinnamon, pepper, ginger, nutmeg, mace, and clove.
We follow spices back through time, through history, myth, archaeology, and literature. We see spices in all their diversity, lauded as love potions and aphrodisiacs, as panaceas and defenses against the plague. We journey from religious rituals in which spices were employed to dispel demons and summon gods to prodigies of gluttony both fantastical and real. We see spices as a luxury for a medieval king's ostentation, as a mummy's deodorant, as the last word in haute cuisine.
Through examining the temptations of spice we follow in the trails of the spice seekers leading from the deserts of ancient Syria to thrill-seekers on the Internet. We discover how spice became one of the first and most enduring links between Asia and Europe. We see in the pepper we use so casually the relic of a tradition linking us to the appetites of Rome, Elizabethan England, and the pharaohs. And we capture the pleasure of spice not only at the table but in every part of life. Spice is a delight to be savored.
"Spices helped draw Europeans into their age of expansion, but the Western world was far from ignorant of them before that time. Turner's lively and wide-ranging account begins with the voyages of discovery, but demonstrates that, even in ancient times, spices from distant India and Indonesia made their way west and fueled the European imagination. Romans and medieval Europeans alike used Asian pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and mace to liven their palates, treat their maladies, enhance their sex lives and mediate between the human and the divine. While many of these applications were not particularly efficacious, spices retained their allure, with an overlay of exotic associations that remain today. Turner argues that the use of rare and costly spices by medieval and Renaissance elites amounted to conspicuous consumption. He has perhaps a little too much fun listing the ridiculous uses of spices in medieval medicine — since, as he notes in a few sparse asides, some spices do indeed have medicinal effects — and fails to get into the real experience of the people. His account of religious uses, on the other hand, paints a richer picture and gets closer to imagining the mystery that people found in these startlingly intense flavors and fragrances. It is this mystery and the idea that sensations themselves have a history that make the entire book fascinating. Agents, Giles Gordon and Russell Galen." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A wide-ranging, learned treat for epicures and cultural historians from — let us say it first — a man for all seasonings." Kirkus Reviews
"A fascinating and scholarly book that can help you improve both your cooking and your sex life. An excellent piece of work." Peter Mayle
"Spice is deliciously rich in odors, savors, and stories. Jack Turner quickens history with almost bardic magic, pouring his personality into his narrative without sacrifice of scholarship." Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
"Jack Turner possesses the two ingredients most essential for the great historian — scholarly detachment allied to a passionate obsession with his subject. He also writes uncommonly well. A splendid book." Philip Ziegler
Book News Annotation:
Though the race to discover the lands of spices is one topic here, the central focus of this entertaining work is on the many uses attributed to spices through history, which extended beyond flavoring to include aphrodisiacs, preservatives, incense for the gods, and medicine. The result is a cultural history that highlights religious mores, notions of health and sexuality, and foodways in the ancient, medieval, and early modern eras, mainly in the West. Turner, who has a doctorate in international relations, lives in Geneva, Switzerland.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
A brilliant, original history of the spice trade — and the appetites that fueled it. Magellan died on a Far East beach for the sake of the clove. Vasco da Gama sailed around Africa to India in search of Christians — and spices. Columbus's search for spices was a failure — despite his stumbling upon the New World. But these 15th- and 16th-century explores and their patrons were not the first to put such value on savory, seductive seeds and powders. Jack Turner follows the trail of spice back through time, a route charted by the human desire to use it in cuisine, in medicine, in magic, in religion, and in sex. We see spice in myth and literature; in archaeological finds and religious rituals; in avarice, fantasy, and gluttony. We learn that spice was in all likelihood the first and certainly the most enduring link between Asia and Europe. We see in the pepper we shake onto our evening meals a tradition that links us to the appetites and dreams of Rome and the pharaohs. And we see its primacy of place not just on the table but in every part of life. Spice is a dazzling delight.
Turner follows the trail of spice back through time, a route charted by the human desire to use it in cuisine, in medicine, in magic, in religion, and in sex. Readers will see spice in myth and literature; in archaeological finds and religious rituals; and in avarice, fantasy, and gluttony.
About the Author
Jack Turner was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1968. He received his B.A. in Classical Studies from Melbourne University and his Ph.D. in International Relations from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar and MacArthur Foundation Junior Research Fellow. He lives with his wife, Helena, and their son in Geneva. This is his first book.
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