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The Spice Route: A History by John Keay

The Spice Route: A History (2005)

by John Keay

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John Keay also wrote about spices, in “The Spice Route” (2005). This tells the story of the West’s obsession with obtaining spices like cloves, mace and nutmeg, as well as pepper, from an early age on. It follows the historical, and gradual, change from a mostly terrestrial transport system depending on crossing the Middle East to an increasingly maritime trade, following the great navigational discoveries, amongst them that the world wasn’t flat at all and that each landmass was surrounded by water. Keay quotes many a narrator of the world’s geography, often with a spice angle to it, from Ptolemy to Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta, and from early Arab, Portuguese, Dutch and British explorers, to create a 2000 year history of the spice route, including the growing realization of the origin of spices, as well as a brief epilogue explaining the demise of the Spice Route, with the growing importance of coffee, tea and sugar, amongst other commodities.
  theonearmedcrab | Jan 10, 2016 |
As can be determined from the title, this book represents a fairly brief history of the spice trade and also serves as an introduction to the age of discoveries, recounting the exploits of De Gamma, Columbus et al. I found this all very interesting but would have preferred to read more coverage of the recent history, e.g. Dutch 'colonisation' of the east Indies, than is included.

Unfortunately, as with the other titles by Keay that I've read, I found the writing style needless elaborate, e.g. "Herodotus, who was born at about the time of Darius' death, well knew the facts of its provenance, though still disinclined to forgo the chance of embellishing them..." This does become tiresome. The text also contains one or two niggling errors, for example the author seems unaware that coriander can be both spice and herb.

'Spice Route' is one of those books that teaches a 'little about a lot' and for that reason I'd recommend it to others, particularly as it is not overly long at ~250 pages of, albeit small, text. ( )
1 vote cwhouston | Nov 21, 2010 |
[The Spice Route] by [John Keay] is an interesting read and it fills in a lot about explorations and trade that isn't covered in school - which focusses on exploration in the "new world." It really covers well the cavalier attitude of the Europeans - mostly Portuguese and Dutch, and what they were willing to do and able to do without censure to the inhabitants of the area of the spice trade (mostly SE Asian islands). It gets into specifics of voyages and individuals. ( )
  solla | Jun 6, 2009 |
Great for picking up the elements and lands/countries involved in the spice trade, but delivered haphazardly when addressing routes and locations. Could use better maps and map keys. Still a wealth of information. For instance the intro to Over the Edge of the World : Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe /by Laurence Bergreen is much more straightforward when discussing the draw to the spice lands. Just a little more of this technique would enhance what is already a wealth of information here.
  bbetsy | Jan 3, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0520248961, Hardcover)

The Spice Route is one of history's greatest anomalies: shrouded in mystery, it existed long before anyone knew of its extent or configuration. Spices came from lands unseen, possibly uninhabitable, and almost by definition unattainable; that was what made them so desirable. Yet more livelihoods depended on this pungent traffic, more nations participated in it, more wars were fought for it, and more discoveries resulted from it than from any other global exchange. Epic in scope, marvelously detailed, laced with drama, The Spice Route spans three millennia and circles the world to chronicle the history of the spice trade. With the aid of ancient geographies, travelers' accounts, mariners' handbooks, and ships' logs, John Keay tells of ancient Egyptians who pioneered maritime trade to fetch the incense of Arabia, Graeco-Roman navigators who found their way to India for pepper and ginger, Columbus who sailed west for spices, de Gama, who sailed east for them, and Magellan, who sailed across the Pacific on the exact same quest. A veritable spice race evolved as the west vied for control of the spice-producing islands, stripping them of their innocence and the spice trade of its mystique. This enthralling saga, progressing from the voyages of the ancients to the blue-water trade that came to prevail by the seventeenth century, transports us from the dawn of history to the ends of the earth.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:02 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

From the dawn of history to the ends of the earth, the Spice Route is one of history's great anomalies. Shrouded in mystery, it existed long before anyone knew of its extent or alignment. Spices came from lands unseen, possibly uninhabitable, and almost by definition unattainable; that was what made them so desirable. John Keay pieces together a historical process that spans three millennia and a geographical progression that encircled the world.… (more)

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