Spice: The History of a Temptation

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9780002570671: Spice: The History of a Temptation

The history of an obsession that once shaped the world

In the ancient Egyptian temple of Dayr al-Bahri is preserved the earliest surviving representation of a merchant fleet. Date to around 1495 BC, rows of hieroglyphs record that the pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut sent the fleet one thousand nine hundred miles south to the land of Punt, a mysterious kingdom somewhere in the Horn of Africa, whence it returned in triumph with a priceless cargo of cinnamon. Yet cinnamon never grew there; it comes from the islands of Southeast Asia; the scarcely credible conclusion is that by 1500 BC there was a trade in cinnamon from one side of the Indian Ocean to the other. At some unknown place, the long-forgotten merchants of Punt acquired the spice, and then resold it for the use of the embalmers, cosmeticians, priests, gods and god-kings of the Nile.

These hints of an ancient trade in spices are only the first, tantalisingly obscure fragments of an epic story. For the sake of spices, fortunes have been made, empires built and destroyed, and new worlds discovered. In the seventeenth century more people died for the sake of cloves than in all the European dynastic wars of the period. Perhaps only the story of mankind’s infatuation with precious metals can rival the story of spice in scope; and only the history of silver and gold rivals that of spice for its improbable and extraordinary combination of discovery and conquest, heroism and savagery, greed and violence.

The history of spice encompasses all the old civilizations and the new, from the lands of the Old Testament to the Spice Isands themselves. This is Jack Turner’s first work, but the ambition and brilliance and lucidity of his writing surely mark him out as a new star in the historical firmament. This will be a remarkable book.

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Review:

'A splendid book...[Jack Turner] writes uncommonly well.' -- Philip Ziegler

'Spice is deliciously rich in odors, savors and stories.' -- Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

'Sumptuous...Turner quotes well and widely from literature, and has a flair for anecdote' -- The Guardian

'This splendid book is full of intriguing information...Turner has written an erudite, urbane and original book - an appetising debut.' -- Sunday Telegraph

'a hugely enjoyable book, written with erudition, style and wit' -- New Scientist

'a mixture of potted history and cultural inquiry...fascinating...served up in small portions and edible in more or less any order.' -- The Scotsman, 4 September 2004

'captures the smells, tastes, sights and sounds of the ancient past' -- The Tablet, 3 December 2004

'gloriously controlled, evocative description' -- Daily Telegraph, 28 August 2004

'gloriously controlled, evocative description...scholarly intensity and narrative talent.' -- The Daily Telegraph

'learned history...sumptuous...he quotes well and widely from literature, and has a flair for anecdote.' -- Guardian, 28 August 2004

About the Author:

Formerly a MacArthur Foundation Research Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, and a Rhodes Scholar, Jack Turner has been cook, farmhand, and photographer and has lived, and travelled in Britain, Spain, Indochina, South America, Syria, Southern Africa and Australia. He has a first-class degree from Melbourne University and a D.Phil from Oxford. He can speak and/or read seven languages.

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