The Spice Route A History Review Essay

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The Spice Route: A History

John Keay, Author University of California Press $40 (288p) ISBN 978-0-520-24896-0
In his latest, author Keay (Last Post) explores the prominent role spices have played in the construction of the modern world, from the development of the word itself to extensive schemes for trading it across continents to the personalities who discovered and disseminated it, noting that ""a taste for spices is responsible for the exploration of our planet."" The resulting volume, culled from historical commentaries and records, is a colorful and detailed portrait of the astonishing impact man's love for flavor had on the earliest stages of globalization. The route by which Keay's narrative travels is seasoned with facts and anecdotes, ranging from ancient historians' fantastic reports of men with ""pendulous upper lips"" and the heads of dogs-or none at all-to the Muslim invasion of India and the Islamification of Malaysia. There is a surprising mythology surrounding the spice trade, and Keay does this angle ample justice, citing figures such as Marco Polo, Ibn Batuta and Roman playwright Plautus. Although Keay ends his book with the grim conclusion that the forces of globalization are to blame for the demystification and downfall of ""spice,"" the work itself is nothing short of zesty.
Reviewed on: 07/17/2006
Release date: 07/01/2006
Paperback - 308 pages - 978-0-520-25416-9
Paperback - 286 pages - 978-0-7195-6805-3
Hardcover - 286 pages - 978-0-7195-6199-3
Portable Document Format (PDF) - 308 pages - 978-0-520-94145-8
About the Author:

John Keay's recent books include Sowing the Wind: The Mismanagement of the Middle East 1900-1960 and Last Post: The End of Empire in the Far East. He lives in Scotland and is married to the author Julia Keay. Together they edited the Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland and are now revising the London Encyclopaedia. They have four children. John's earlier books include standard histories of India and the English East India Company. His latest is Mad About the Mekong: Exploration and Empire in South East Asia.

Review:

'A typically droll and beautifully wrought book' -- Literary Review 'A springy, fresh feel!The Spice Route is what happens when you match a writer at the top of his form with a fashionable subject!The result is tremendous.' -- Literary Review-Nick Smith 'Its digressiveness is also a boon, allowing Keay to touch on everything' -- FT MAgazine 20050814 'Fascinating new history' -- Daily Telegraph 20050814 'Absorbing' -- Scotsman 20050814 'Keay more sharply than romantically points up the economic basis of historic trade wars over three millenia.' -- The Times 20050716 'Serves up a feast of detail on a fascinating and little-known subject' -- Sunday Telegraph 20050731 'Keay's retelling of the tale is restrained yet powerful, his choice of facts compelling' -- Guardian 20050910 'Keay has produced another scrupulously researched, persuasive book' -- TLS 20050910 'Consistently interesting' -- Observer/Review: Robert Colville 20060625 'A fascinating tale packed with eye-catching detail' -- Independent 20060624 'Keay's history! begins with romance and wonder, before it gives way to the adventure and violence of the age of maritime exploration' -- Independent: Laurence Phelan 20060623 'Keay crosses centuries as confidently as the great tea-clippers once coursed oceans. He writes elegant, exemplary prose, and this book is as full of bounty as any 18th-century privateer could pray for' -- The Times 20060617 'One of the clearest explanations of the oldest example of global trade and its cultural and political ramifications' -- South China Morning Post 20060604 'Impressively researched' -- Guardian 20050708 'An enthralling and erudite history of the spice trade' -- Traveller 20050708 'A delightful, scholarly and thoroughly readable account' -- Geographical 20050508 'Fascinating! covering 3000 years of history in well-written, easy-to-read prose!The book is full of wonderful facts! Quite a lot to discuss. Exploitation, greed, values. All grist to a reading group's mill' -- Margaret Burgess, NewBooksMag 20050508

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