An 'entertaining, informative and utterly depressing global history of an important commodity . . . By alerting readers to the ways that modernity's very origins are entangled with a seemingly benign and delicious substance, How Sugar Corrupted the World raises fundamental questions about our world.'
Sven Beckert, the Laird Bell professor of American history at Harvard University and the author of Empire of Cotton: A Global History, in the New York Times
'A brilliant and thought-provoking history of sugar and its ironies'
Bee Wilson, Wall Street Journal
'Shocking and revelatory . . . no other product has so changed the world, and no other book reveals the scale of its impact.' David Olusoga
'This study could not be more timely.' Laura Sandy, Lecturer in the History of Slavery, University of Liverpool
The story of sugar, and of mankind's desire for sweetness in food and drink is a compelling, though confusing story. It is also an historical story.
The story of mankind's love of sweetness - the need to consume honey, cane sugar, beet sugar and chemical sweeteners - has important historical origins. To take a simple example, two centuries ago, cane sugar was vital to the burgeoning European domestic and colonial economies. For all its recent origins, today's obesity epidemic - if that is what it is - did not emerge overnight, but instead evolved from a complexity of historical forces which stretch back centuries. We can only fully understand this modern problem, by coming to terms with its genesis and history: and we need to consider the historical relationship between society and sweetness over a long historical span. This book seeks to do just that: to tell the story of how the consumption of sugar - the addition of sugar to food and drink - became a fundamental and increasingly troublesome feature of modern life.
Walvin's book is the heir to Sidney Mintz's Sweetness and Power, a brilliant sociological account, but now thirty years old. In addition, the problem of sugar, and the consequent intellectual and political debate about the role of sugar, has been totally transformed in the years since that book's publication.
British social historian Walvin (Crossings) charts the evolution of sugar from prized global commodity to the culprit behind the modern obesity epidemic, showing how a foodstuff once so ubiquitous that it was deemed "the general solace of all classes" came to wreak environmental and social havoc. Sugar's inexorable rise began in the plantations of the 16th-century Caribbean, where the cheap labor of African slaves made it available in large quantities for the first time. The substance was soon all the rage in Europe, where both elites and ordinary citizens succumbed to its pleasures as well as to the previously unknown phenomenon of tooth decay a symbol, for Walvin, of the ecological damage, moral degeneration, and public-health disaster sugar would cause in the centuries to come. Walvin's tone is brisk and informative, particularly in chapters on the gradual intertwining of sugar and sociability through such institutions as caf s and factory "tea breaks." But the book's final section on sugar and obesity feels unconnected to its historical argument, and many themes here have been explored in greater depth elsewhere. Descriptions of sugar sculptures and breakfast customs only take Walvin so far: the rise of sugar was so relentless and unstoppable that the book feels devoid of sustained conflict or complexity.