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The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies Hardcover – August 16, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company (August 16, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780802717443
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802717443
  • ASIN: 0802717446
  • Product Dimensions: 1.6 x 6.3 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #561,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"An engaging journey to a mercifully vanished world." – The Wall Street Journal

"A tumultuous rollercoaster of a book … Mr. Parker tells an extraordinary, neglected and shameful story with gusto."—The Economist

 
"Gripping....A compendium of greed, horrible ingenuity, and wickedness, but also a fascinating and thoughtful social history." – William Dalrymple, author of The Last Mughal and Nine Lives
 
“[A] minutely detailed portrait of one corner of Britain’s constantly illuminated empire.” – Booklist

“A rich, multifaceted account of the greed and slavery bolstering the rise of England’s mercantile empire.” – Kirkus

“Successful both as a scholarly introduction to the topic and as an entertaining narrative, this is recommended for readers of any kind of history.” – Library Journal

“This is a rousing, fluently written narrative history, full of color, dash, and forceful personalities, but it's also a subtle social portrait of plantation life and governance.” – Publishers Weekly
 

About the Author

Matthew Parker was born in Central America and spent part of his childhood in the West Indies, acquiring a lifelong fascination with the history of the region. He is the author of Panama Fever, the story of the building of the Panama Canal, and Monte Cassino: The Hardest Fought Battle of World War II. He lives in London.

More About the Author

Born in Central America in 1970, Matthew Parker spent part of his childhood in the West Indies, acquiring a life-long fascination with the history of the region and a hopeless enthusiasm for cricket. A first-class graduate of Oxford University, he has worked as a writer, an editorial consultant, a commissioning editor, and as a contributor to history television projects. Radio appearances include the Diane Rehm show in the United States. His books include Monte Cassino, Panama Fever: The Battle to Build the Canal and, most recently, The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire and War in the West Indies. Matthew has written for a number of newspapers and magazines, including History Today, BBC History Magazine and the Guardian, and lectured at the Royal Geographical Society in London, the Explorers' Club in New York, Northwestern University in Chicago, and the Society of the Americas in Washington DC. His most recent television project was as historical consultant and interviewee for PBS's "Panama Canal". He currently lives in the East End of London with his family and annoying dog.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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See all 27 customer reviews
The details were fully explored and the story richly told.
Jan Parzybok
He paints the complex life of slavery and white colonial rule in great detail.
Glen Cunningham
Highly recommended for anyone interested in the caribbean islands.
Clive Bayne

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Mark bennett on August 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a well written history book. It covers the sugar trade and the families that ran it. Its far from a happy story in many respects. But its very illuminating on issues of business, trade, politics and the stories of individuals. The early parts of the book jump all over the place leading to a rather choppy narrative, but the story told is always interesting (if not exactly happy).

The sugar trade was empire in its pureist and most ruthless form. It killed most of those who became directly involved in the west indies (slave, soldier, businessmen). And the wealth all went back overseas to the ultimate owners who ran the whole thing on something like remote control. The book's ending seems rather abrupt and the author could have gone further in terms of looking at the history. But all in all a very good book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Clive Bayne on September 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Parker opened my eyes to the predominance of the sugar trade in the seventeenth century and beyond, the close relationship particulary between Barbados (and the English caribbean in general) with the thirteen North American colonies. He also gives another perspective on the slave trade. What I really enjoy about Mathew Parker's style is his ingenious way of getting you hooked with one or two personal stories of individuals and families; And once he has you, the process of historical extrapolation becomes much more readable. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the caribbean islands.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Dan Allosso on February 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This was a valuable addition to my undergrad Honors US History syllabus this semester. The students were not aware that English colonial success in the Atlantic really began in Barbados, or that New England and the West Indies were so important to each other's growth as early as the 1640s. A couple of things surprised me, though. First, I thought they would understand that the conflicted way we tend to look at these sugar barons (partly as self-made heroes of a rags-to-riches romance, partly as monsters who enriched themselves on slave labor) is a problem that's endemic in history. I'll need to spell it out a little more, next time. But I think Parker presented it well, especially in the self-contradictory memoirs of Richard Ligon.

The other difficulty, which I think Parker contributed to, surrounds slavery. For the most part, the students accepted Parker's claim that racialized slavery was the fault of medieval Muslims. This is unfortunate. Generally, before the modern era, slavery was not so much based on rationalizations of inferiority, as on conquest. Conquered people became slaves, often in spite of the fact that they shared the ethnicity of their conquerors. My students will see another example of the racialization of slavery when we take up Virginia next week. With so many examples from the Anglo-Atlantic world, there's no reason to go looking in 8th-century Islam.

Despite this complaint, I like the narrative style and the focus Parker throws on this time and region, which too often gets only a paragraph in textbooks. Connecting the Caribbean with the mainland (especially New England) is really helpful, and shows the early colonial period in a whole different light. This will be very useful, when we get around to discussing the way historians have fought over the "market transition" and early "capitalism" in the colonies and young nation.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By W. Wedenoja on August 17, 2013
Format: Paperback
I was flying out of Montego Bay and the tourist sitting next to me remarked that he didn't understand why there were so many black people in Jamaica. There is, in short, a profound ignorance about the Caribbean, at least among the millions of Americans who flock there for sun, sea and sand every winter. Yet the Caribbean is critical to an understanding of the making of the modern world in so many ways. There are a lot of good books on Caribbean history and The Sugar Barons is, in my opinion, the very best. Writing about the Caribbean as a whole is bound to be messy and therefore confusing, given the number of islands, the many colonizing powers, and constant changes in sovereignty. Parker follows the spread of the sugar industry, the very backbone of Caribbean history, making for a coherent narrative. He focuses on key individuals and families wherever possible, personalizing events, and writes clearly and engagingly. A most interesting and informative read for any reader.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in the topic. Sticking with historical fact the author does a good job of outlining the multifaceted and complex dynamic between the European powers and the sugar trade. While other islands are discussed the majority of the book is focused on Barbados and Jamaica and it exclusively delves into the English sugar barons. It was a little choppy in it's pace and writing. For example some chapters are dedicated to details of what life was like for the slaves, the overseers, and the plantation owners while other chapters are chronological accounts of events and people. Over all it was a great resource that was fun to read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Les Fearns on March 14, 2012
Format: Paperback
Parkers history of the West Indies sugar industry is one of the most valuable reads of the year for students of industrial and imperial history. He outlines the origins of the industry which originated on the Caribbean island of Barbados and reached its peak with the cultivation of Jamaica. The final chapters look at eventual decline and collapse.

However, this is much more than a narrative. It's value is in how it draws in key strands of Britains early imperial history showing how they all worked together - but reading between the lines it also makes clear modes of behaviour that still exist amongst the descendants of the sugar barons today - the bankers of the city.
The 17th century saw the cultivation of sugar following ideas first used in Brazil by the Dutch and Portuguese. Other islands soon followed as the price for sugar rocketed in Europe and fortunes were made by the estate owners. Sugar became an essential luxury and demand forced more and more land into cultivation. More was being made in profit than could be spent on the islands- the growing surplus was being spent and invested in England - providing funds for other commercial and early industrial ventures. so far so good, but it is in exploring other aspects of this growth that the book excels:

* the early years coincided with Spain's domination of the area. London encouraged the settlers to help defend and expand their investments. Privateering - the use of ships to attack and loot Spanish treasure ships was encouraged. This would become little more than blatant piracy, especially as it happened consistently, not just during war due to the odd concept that the West Indies were "beyond the line" of normal diplomatic niceties. By the late 17th century this was real "Pirates of the Caribbean territory.
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