Would you believe that nutmeg formed the basis of one of the most bitter international conflicts of the 17th century, and was also intimately connected to New York City's rise to global preeminence? Strange but true: nutmeg was, in fact, one of the most prized commodities in Renaissance Europe, and its fascinating story is told in Giles Milton's delightful Nathaniel's Nutmeg.
The book deals with the competition between England and Holland for possession of the spice-producing islands of Southeast Asia throughout the 17th century. Packed with stories of heroism, ambition, ruthlessness, treachery, murder, torture, and madness, Nathaniel's Nutmeg offers a compelling story of European rivalry in the tropics, thousands of miles from home, and the mutual incomprehensibility which often comically characterized relations between the Europeans and the local inhabitants of the prized islands.
At the center of the action lies Nathaniel Courthope, a trusty lieutenant of the East India Company, who took and held the tiny nutmeg-producing island of Run in the face of overwhelming Dutch opposition for more than five years, before being treacherously murdered in 1620. To avenge his death, and the loss of the island, the British took the Dutch North American colony at Manhattan. (As Milton wittily remarks, although Courthope's death "robbed England of her nutmeg, it gave her the biggest of apples").
Inevitably inviting comparisons with Dava Sobel's Longitude, Nathaniel's Nutmeg is a charming story that throws light on a neglected period of European history, and analyzes its fascination with the "spicy" East. --Jerry Brotton, Amazon.co.uk
From Publishers Weekly
Exotic spices such as nutmeg, mace and cloves were treasured in the kitchens and pharmacopoeias of 16th- and 17th-century Europe. Nutmeg was even believed to be an effective remedy against plague. Small wonder, then, that traders of the time ventured to the ends of the earth to secure it. With high drama and gracefully integrated research, Milton (The Riddle and the Knight) chronicles this "Spice Race," profiling the leading participants and recording the ruthless violence with which this very real trade war was conducted. The maritime powers of Europe sent companies of adventurers to the Spice Islands (now part of Indonesia), each nation intent on establishing a monopoly and reaping the stupefying profits that the spice trade could produce. The book concentrates on the competition between the Dutch and English East India Companies to control the spice trade nearly 400 years ago. In 1616, Nathaniel Courthope led an English expedition to occupy the Spice Island of Run, a few square miles of land thickly forested with nutmeg trees. As Milton explains, Courthope's assertion of English ownership of Run Island was rejected by the Dutch, who besieged the island for four years before ousting the English (and killing Courthope). However, Courthope's apparent failure led to an unexpected benefit for his country when, in 1667, a treaty confirmed Holland's seizure of Run but, in exchange, validated England's seizure of another piece of land on the opposite side of the worldAthe island of Manhattan. Sprinkled with useful maps and illustrations, Milton's book tells an absorbing story of perilous voyages, greed and political machinations in the Age of Exploration.
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