The World of Sugar: How the Sweet Stuff Transformed Our Politics, Health, and Environment over 2,000 Years (Hardback)
  • The World of Sugar: How the Sweet Stuff Transformed Our Politics, Health, and Environment over 2,000 Years (Hardback)
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The World of Sugar: How the Sweet Stuff Transformed Our Politics, Health, and Environment over 2,000 Years (Hardback)

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£29.95
Hardback 464 Pages
Published: 09/05/2023
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“[A] tour de force of global history…Bosma has turned the humble sugar crystal into a mighty prism for understanding aspects of global history and the world in which we live.”—Los Angeles Review of Books

The definitive 2,500-year history of sugar and its human costs, from its little-known origins as a luxury good in Asia to worldwide environmental devastation and the obesity pandemic.

For most of history, humans did without refined sugar. After all, it serves no necessary purpose in our diets, and extracting it from plants takes hard work and ingenuity. Granulated sugar was first produced in India around the sixth century BC, yet for almost 2,500 years afterward sugar remained marginal in the diets of most people. Then, suddenly, it was everywhere. How did sugar find its way into almost all the food we eat, fostering illness and ecological crisis along the way?

The World of Sugar begins with the earliest evidence of sugar production. Through the Middle Ages, traders brought small quantities of the precious white crystals to rajahs, emperors, and caliphs. But after sugar crossed the Mediterranean to Europe, where cane could not be cultivated, demand spawned a brutal quest for supply. European cravings were satisfied by enslaved labor; two-thirds of the 12.5 million Africans taken across the Atlantic were destined for sugar plantations. By the twentieth century, sugar was a major source of calories in diets across Europe and North America.

Sugar transformed life on every continent, creating and destroying whole cultures through industrialization, labor migration, and changes in diet. Sugar made fortunes, corrupted governments, and shaped the policies of technocrats. And it provoked freedom cries that rang with world-changing consequences. In Ulbe Bosma’s definitive telling, to understand sugar’s past is to glimpse the origins of our own world of corn syrup and ethanol and begin to see the threat that a not-so-simple commodity poses to our bodies, our environment, and our communities.

Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674279391
Number of pages: 464
Dimensions: 235 x 156 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS

A tour de force of global history…Bosma has turned the humble sugar crystal into a mighty prism for understanding aspects of global history and the world in which we live. - Dinyar Patel, Los Angeles Review of Books

The World of Sugar shows the globalized tangle of interests that capitalism creates among consumers, producers, investors, labor, national governments, and transnational organizations…Sugar offers a bitter reminder of the enduring tensions between the complexity of national interests and the interests of capital. - Bronwen Everill, Foreign Policy

One of the most accomplished longue durée case studies in the history of capitalism that we have, concerned not just with trade and consumption but with production also. At every turn it subverts both critiques and celebrations of capitalism, and our understanding of much else besides. It is an extraordinary achievement. - David Edgerton, Literary Review

Sugar’s societal dominance is a recent development…Its history is both a story of progress and a bittersweet tale of ‘exploitation, racism, obesity, and environmental destruction’…[An] authoritative, highly readable study—the first to be truly global. - Andrew Robinson, Nature

Bosma lucidly depicts how a commodity that is challenging to cultivate and devoid of nutritional value was central to the development of European imperialism, transatlantic slavery, the Industrial Revolution, economic protectionism, and the postcolonial politics and environmental degradation of the Global South. Bosma’s wide-ranging accounting is full of eye-opening insights…This is a comprehensive and alarming look at how one commodity changed the world. - Publishers Weekly

Bosma revisits the technical innovations, economic arrangements, and pains of a world submitting to the joy and addictiveness of sugar. His insights into the present are all the more resounding. - Julien Damon, L'Express

Bosma traces how sugar has fundamentally ‘changed how we feed ourselves’…The ubiquity of sugar, writes Bosma, tells us about progress but also reveals a darker story of human exploitation. - Sudipta Datta, The Hindu

Takes you on a journey of discovery—the journey of sugar itself, which has gone from relative obscurity to becoming an indispensable part of modern diet, causing untold harm in the process. - BooksFirst

Covers the history of the sweet stuff, first produced in granulated form in the 6th century BC, but not a huge commodity until more than two millennia later. This is…a reckoning with sugar. - Sophie Roell, Five Books

A comprehensive 2,500-year examination of sugar’s history and its profound impact on society and the environment. Ulbe Bosma traces sugar’s journey from a luxury good in ancient India to a ubiquitous ingredient in our diets today, underscoring its role in fostering health issues and environmental crises. Bosma highlights how sugar has altered cultures and shaped political policies, laying bare the significant risks this commonplace commodity poses. - Food Tank

Ulbe Bosma’s history of sugar is also a case study of global capitalism over the centuries, colonial wars, and the deadly slave trade that made the industry possible…An interesting account of how sugar seeped into the global digestive system. - Cameron Woodhead and Steven Carroll, Sydney Morning Herald

An important new contribution to the literature on the history of sugar. Many of the shadows of sugar are dark, they spread over the entire world, and they are very, very, long. - Robert Ackrill, H-Diplo

The world history of sugar and the world history of capitalism are tightly linked to one another. Ulbe Bosma, in this first truly global account of a most crucial commodity, takes us to the fields of Indian peasants, the countinghouses of Chinese merchants, the monopolizing efforts of New York industrialists, and the rebellions of enslaved sugar workers in Cuba to chart how something as mundane as sugar came to play a crucial role in the making of the world we inhabit today. Attentive to local specificities as much as to Earth-spanning connections, to culture and capital, power and poverty, this book is global history at its best. - Sven Beckert, author of Empire of Cotton: A Global History

Sugar may play a unique role in the slow-motion tragedy that is the worldwide epidemic of obesity and diabetes. The World of Sugar is a remarkably researched, comprehensive, and indispensable book for everyone who wishes to understand how sugar and the sugar industry have shaped the world in which we live. - Gary Taubes, author of The Case Against Sugar

How is it that a chemical that has no nutritional value, that is inherently poisonous, that is responsible for morbidity and mortality, and that is breaking the health care budget of every developed and developing country is the seminal thread running through human history for the last 3,000 years? The World of Sugar narrates the critical events that made sugar the dominant force in world politics from antiquity to our own era. In this magisterial history, Bosma offers a much-needed cautionary tale about how addiction leads to societal downfall. As we watch newer addictions destroy the climate and Earth’s inhabitants, we would all do well to learn the hard lessons of sugar. - Robert Lustig, author of Metabolical: The Lure and the Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition, and Modern Medicine

The World of Sugar is compelling, deeply researched, and globe-spanning. Bosma puts sugar at the heart of global capitalism; he shows how the quest for sweetness has driven slavery, violence, and massive ecological destruction. This is a timely and impressive book that illuminates some of our most urgent contemporary debates. - Sunil Amrith, author of Unruly Waters: How Mountain Rivers and Monsoons Have Shaped South Asia’s History

Sugar got the modern world moving in a way few other commodities did. Revealing the bitter downside of sweetness, Bosma gives us a spectacular narrative that deftly weaves in all of sugar’s stories: labor and consumption, power and trade, science and technology. - Jürgen Osterhammel, author of The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century

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