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The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies
Synopses & Reviews
To those who travel there today, the West Indies are unspoiled paradise islands. Yet that image conceals a turbulent and shocking history. For some two hundred years after 1650, the West Indies were the strategic center of the Western world's greatest power struggles as Europeans made and lost immense fortunes growing and trading in sugar-a commodity so lucrative it became known as "white gold." Matthew Parker vividly chronicles how the wealth of her island colonies became the foundation and focus of England's commercial and imperial greatness, underpinning the British economy and ultimately fueling the Industrial Revolution. Yet with the incredible wealth came untold misery: the horror endured by slaves, on whose backs the sugar empire was brutally built; the rampant disease that claimed the lives of one-third of all whites within three years of arrival in the Caribbean; the cruelty, corruption, and decadence of the plantation culture. Broad in scope, rich in detail, The Sugar Barons freshly links the histories of Europe, the West Indies, and North America and reveals the full impact of the sugar revolution, the resonance of which is still felt today.
"Tiny Caribbean islands generate outsized wealth, influence, and cruelty in this gripping history of the British West Indies. Historian Parker (Panama Fever) recounts the heyday of the planters of Barbados, Jamaica, and the Leeward Islands who made sugarcane cultivation into a fabulously profitable agribusiness from the 17th to 19th centuries. The riches their plantations generated made them imperial power brokers, provoked wars — in settling the French and Indian War, France gave up Canada to regain the minute sugar island of Guadeloupe — and sparked a culinary revolution. But Britain's glittering West Indian colonies were also some of history's most appalling societies, the author notes. A tiny minority of whites worked the islands' black slave laborers to death and meted out brutality and violence — Parker's accounts of atrocities inflicted on slaves are extremely disturbing — at the slightest disobedience. This is a rousing, fluently written narrative history, full of color, dash, and forceful personalities, but it's also a subtle social portrait of plantation life and governance: its live fast, die young ethos as Europeans dropped like flies from tropical diseases. Parker's vivid evocation of the elite evokes the queasy moral rot beneath la dolce vita. Photos. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Matthew Parker was born in Central America and spent part of his childhood in the West Indies, acquiring a lifelong fascination with the history of the region. He is the author of Panama Fever, the story of the building of the Panama Canal, and Monte Cassino: The Hardest Fought Battle of World War II. He lives in London. Visit his website at www.matthewparker.co.uk.
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