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Pepper: A History of the World's Most Influential Spice Hardcover – April 2, 2013
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“This is more than the story of a spice…Get ready for a sweeping ride through history.” ―David Oshinsky, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Polio: An American Story
“After reading Marjorie Shaffer's Pepper, you'll reconsider the significance of that grinder or shaker on your dining room table.” ―Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World
“Pepper was once as critical a commodity as oil. Marjorie Shaffer weaves a delightful history of the Indian Ocean and the South Seas.” ―Robert D. Kaplan, author of Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power
About the Author
MARJORIE SHAFFER has written for The New York Times, The Financial Times, and Popular Science magazine. She was a business reporter for Reuters and a former Knight science journalism fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A graduate of Brown University, she received a Master of Science degree in biology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is currently a science writer and editor at New York University School of Medicine. She lives in New York City.
Top customer reviews
I wanted to like "Pepper, a History...." I really did. But by the middle of the book, the story had become a "yawner". The first time you read about the scourge of scurvy, you pay attention. But repeated iterations of disease-ravaged sailing vessel crews seems pointless. A European power captures a portion of the spice market, only to lose a portion of that market to another European rival, well, that became a repetitive theme too. I reached the point where the only thing I wanted to know about pepper was that the McCormick Company is keeping my local supermarket shelf stocked.
In another Author's hands, I think this could have been an interesting book. Many of the folks who were asked to endorse this book described it as a fitting companion to the book, "Salt" by Mark Kurlansky. I enjoyed "Salt". "Pepper" was just too bland.
To pad out the thinness of her story, Shaffer fills endless pages with descriptions of towns, violence of the Portuguese and Dutch, meals eaten by the elite, the social ineptitude and cultural insensitivity of Vasco da Gama and the possible medicinal properties of betel.
The pepper trade certainly had a role in the age of exploration and colonization and it's useful to understand that history. You just don't need to wade through 300 repetitive, off-topic pages to gain that understanding.