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Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History [Paperback]

Sidney W. Mintz
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 5, 1986 0140092331 978-0140092332 Reprint
"Shows how the intelligent analysis of the history of a single commodity can be used to pry open the history of an entire world of social relationships and human behavior."—The New York Review of Books.

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Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History + The Glass Palace: A Novel + Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics [Updated Edition]
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 274 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 5, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140092331
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140092332
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,683 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sidney W. Mintz is professor emeritus, department of anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. He founded the department there in 1975. He has done extensive field research in Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Haiti, as well as in Iran. He launched a research program in Hong Kong to study the consumption and production of soybean and examine soy products in the United States.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Mix of History and Anthropology December 10, 2000
Sidney Mintz provides and an excellent background on the impact that sugar has made on humankind in the past 400 years. The theme of the of the books centers on sugar within the British economy and culture but provides a different insight on European colonialism and the impact of specialty items in mercantilism economies. Although the book reads as a straight history text, Mintz, as a trained anthropologist, provides a provocative case study into the intricate relationship among products, consumers and producers. The book is well documented/foot-noted. Any student of economics, anthropology or the history of Colonial/Industrial Britain should grace their bookshelf with this text.
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57 of 66 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How has sugar moved you November 16, 2002
Mintz carefully places implications that sugar has caused human nature and culture to change and the end of his work, after a brief overview of all that we have been doing with sugar or rather sugar has been doing with us for the past 1000 years. MintzŐs work is divided into 5 sections: Food, Sociality and Sugar; Production; Consumption; Power; and finally Eating and Being. Mintz really hopes to build a base of facts to reveal to us how we as a people have identified with and sought to consume sugar over the past 1000 years and how that has affected us.
Sugar is always a labor intensive project, from the mill, to the distillery, to the storehouse and all the laborers it takes to run these places. Mintz discusses how this need for labor caused the British to look to Africa and other places to find cheap or free labor. With sugar came slavery, and those slaves who did the plantation work generally worked in the Caribbean while the product they created was delivered to British aristocracy.
In the mid-1700Ős sugar is made cheaper and more accessible to the lower classes and at this point shifts in its purpose to sweeten food. And as outlined by the upper statistics, sugar only continues to grow in demand. It is interesting that because sugar started as something precious and hard to come by, when it later became more cheap and accessible to the working class it still seemed to uphold that Òrareness.Ó The working class felt like they were increasing in freedom and status as they started to consume sugar. Sugar and like products Òrepresented the growing freedom of ordinary folks,Ó yet did Sugar really mean freedom?
In analysis of MintzŐs thesis I am most convinced that sugar is a powerful force that has moved us historically and today.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good case study on commodites and development November 9, 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found this book very interesting as I read it for a development anthropology class. Mintz gives a detailed and informative history of the development of sugar as a commodity from the colonial age to the present. Coming from an anthropological point of view, he examines the cultural impact of sugar production on the Carribean nations that produce it. He also displays how British organization of the industry in their colonies created an increasing demand for sugar.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How meaning morphs depending on class December 23, 2001
By Julie
Mintz's book is a bit hard to understand because he approaches the history of sugar from an intensely anthropological perspective. Basically, he studies the meaning associated with sugar (especially in England) during its centuries-long journey across time and economic class. Sugar began as an upper-class commodity. To have sugar displayed one's wealth and status. It was even endowed with magical and medicinal properties. Through colonialism, however, sugar was supplied to England cheaply and it became an daily part of the lower class English diet. It lost its high-status connotations and became a common day product. Mintz also studies the meanings sugar had in literature and speech, and even its effects today. This book is a worthwhile endeavor, and for anthropology, actually almost a fun read.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Sidney W. Mintz's Sweetness and Power situates economic analysis in consumption rather than production. The author believes that a producer's labor and exploitation is not enough to understand the exploitation of production. One must unpack the mythos of demand. Central to this is the idea that rational choice leads liberal individuals to consume products because it is in their best interest. Mintz correctly implies that in the historiography of western consumers and colonial producers, this liberal individual is almost always white, male, and couched in the trappings of "civilization." He criticizes prevailing practices in social anthropology that approach colonized peoples as pristine and discrete, a tendency that also has troubling sway over what he terms "anthropology of modern life." He sees the anthropology rooted in his study of a basic commodity-sugar-as a positive contestation of the bounded primitive as a mode of inquiry and one that connects rather than marginalizes its subjects.

Mintz's engagement with cultural anthropology is based on a sophisticated premise: the way in which canonical anthropology marginalizes the primitive in opposition to civil society is related to the way in which liberal economics marginalizes the producer in opposition to the liberal individual consumer. The term "in opposition to" is appropriate because in this marginalization, both ends are mutually decentered. Both the primitive and the civil as well as production and consumption are on the margins because there is a labor, an exploitation, and an invocation to behavior that defies logic on each end. This, Mintz implies, necessitates a rejection of the prevailing colonial narrative of one-way dominion. For him, the mass-consumption of sugar is an anthropological anomaly.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Awesome and eye-opening
Great read. I was never into social science or anthropology, but had to take a class that required this book. I couldn't put it down! Read more
Published 2 months ago by playing with death
3.0 out of 5 stars Detailed and Disorganized
This was a very detailed and interesting read regarding the economics of sugar in England. The author certainly knows his stuff and goes into vast details of the economic history... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Howie
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading for historians, geographers, or anthropologists
Mintz's 'Sweetness and Power' is a classic. He makes a compelling argument on the role of sugar and the sugar industry in the development of modern capitalism. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Josh Mullenite
3.0 out of 5 stars required reading
I was asked to read this by a professor. It was interesting but a little dry compared to other ethnographies I have read.
Published 5 months ago by Kristen
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent but more an anthropology than history
My favorite book in this category of history is Kurlansky's Salt. Sweetness and Power is another book along those lines, but it doesn't live up to the former. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Lord of the Sith
3.0 out of 5 stars Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History
I read this book for a food and identity class. Written with a Marxist bent, I would have preferred a straight history than a lambasting of perceived imperialism.
Published 8 months ago by Nancy Maxwell
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting, but...
It was poorly written, I thought. Many points were repeated several times, as generalities, and then, when he finally got down to supporting these points, he went into too much... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Carol Elkins
4.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening
I love the way that you are wisked through the history of sugar, the consequences of it's agricultural development, and influence on the development of capitalism.
Published 14 months ago by Karen Bladel
4.0 out of 5 stars met description and no major problems with book and
the book was fine and it met the product description before i purchased it so I am satisfied with what I received
Published 16 months ago by Gina Montoya
5.0 out of 5 stars Sweetness and Power
Another exceptional work of Dr. Mintz. Very honest, lost of honest information about cane workers and their life. I recommend it.
Published 17 months ago by Lil Izquierdo
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