- Paperback: 274 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 5, 1986)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0140092331
- ISBN-13: 978-0140092332
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 56 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,573 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History Reprint Edition
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"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
"Like sugar, Mintz is persuasive, and his detailed history is a real treat." -San Francisco Chronicle
"A fine book. It not only tells a fascinating story, it is also something of an antidote to the static quality of much anthropological writing." -Jack Goody, The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Sidney W. Mintz was a professor at the Johns Hopkins University, where he taught anthropology. His academic specialization focused on the anthropology of food, with a particular focus on the consumption and commodification of sugar. His works include Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom: Excursions into Eating, Culture, and the Past; The World of Soy; and Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. He died in 2015.
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Sweetness and Power
Sidney Mintz, a professor of anthropology at Johns Hopkins University, has devoted his life to studying the phenomena surrounding all things sugar. He spent a great deal of his life conducting research on islands such as Jamaica, Haiti, and Puerto Rico, meeting people that are currently working in sugarcane fields as well as studying the people of the past. Mintz has published many books relevant to sugar during his career. In one such publication, entitled Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, published in 1985, Mintz presents a gripping account of the introduction and popularization of sugar across the world, and especially, in Europe. Throughout his book, Mintz, keeps the reader interested by using a coherent train of logic to present his seemingly unbiased arguments. Mintz appears to be extremely credible by using a plethora of primary and secondary sources, showing both sides of the arguments, and by using a very scholarly tone.
Beginning with the first chapter, "Food, Sociality, and Sugar", Mintz starts his book almost advertising the potential issues when analyzing the history of something as ubiquitous as sugar. He acquaints the reader with the problem, saying "Studying the varying use of a single ingestible like sugar... can seem trivial" (7). He shows to the reader that the arguments he made may have potential holes. He never gives off the impression that he believes his arguments are one hundred percent correct, but he is willing to provide the sources for each, to support his logic. By providing the immense amount of evidence behind his claims he presents multiple scintillating arguments.
It is awe inspiring to see each avers' support, each one almost always has either an endnote or a direct quote, if not both. For example, on page 91, while discussing the popularization of "subtleties" he cites William Harrison's The Description of England, published in 1587. Then, immediately following the citation he then uses a direct quote from R. Partridge's The treasure of commodious conceits. Mintz takes two in depth looks at both of these pieces just to support a very minor point of a minor section in one chapter. This kind of research makes Mintz work extremely reliable. However, referencing and quoting from other pieces of literature is not always definitive of a well formed argument.
To analyze the integrity of Mintz' case one must look at his sources with thorough scrutiny. For example, take the aforementioned text, William Harrison's The Description of England. Hintz selected this primary source for a reason, and did ample studies to ensure its reliability. First, this books own definition can testify to its objective viewpoints, when, Harrison himself, describes it as "An Historicall[sic] description of the Iland[sic] of Britaine[sic], with a briefe[sic] rehersall[sic] of the nature and qualities of the people of England." Not only was this source an unbiased "description" of Britain, but during the 16th century this book was popular enough that Harrison wrote subsequent editions. Its popularity only adds to its credibility, if many people were reading it then, than it must be, in some way, indicative of the majority of society's opinions at that time. Lastly, The Description of England was not only popular in 1587, but receives scholarly acclaim today, "regarded as the fullest single account of British social life in Elizabethan times" (242) . With a primary source like Harrison's, Mintz creates a very convincing argument by using a real, credible, and popularized text. Amazingly, he does not just do this once or twice, but, literally, on almost every other page, has a similar citation that leads to yet another source that shares the same characteristics as The Description of England.
Mintz doesn't just use primary sources to support his points, but also analytical secondary sources. An example of a secondary source being used to develop his argument is found on page 141-42. There, Mintz quotes Phillip Morton Shand, from his book entitled A book of food published in 1927. Shand is considered a trustable source, publishing many books on the development of social habits in England, and known as a respected "commentator on the English scene" (141). Mintz artfully uses Shand's reputation to begin his point on how tea consumption and sugar are related. The fact that A book of food was published almost three hundred years later than the event Shand discusses makes it very important to Mintz. Rather than a potentially skewed opinion of someone who is living in the moment, Shand, or anyone analyzing the past, has the advantage to step back and make their own judgments based on their research. Shand's appearance in Sweetness and Power solidifies Mintz' argument and shows another historians viewpoint, other than just his own. And the usage of secondary sources, just like primary sources, for Mintz is not a rarity.
Furthermore, Mintz doesn't stop with supporting his own arguments; he also remains true to history and, often, presents the other side's perspective as well. For example, Mintz opens the reader's eyes to the debates that ensued between John Burnett and R.H. Campbell in regards to the staple food of the 18th century (127). Mintz delves into detail of where both men found and analyzed there data in order to make the claims they did, as well as show support and disagreement for both. This display of a discrepancy in Mintz' work shows the reader how open and honest Mintz is being, which in turn makes him seem easier to trust, and more thoughtful.
Beyond the in depth research that Mintz conducted to create a fair account of sugar's history, he also has a tone that makes his work seem reliable. Presenting all of his findings with a measured and unbiased tone he does not appear to be someone with radical opinions that is bending facts to prove a point. Also, by avoiding generalities, such as "always" or "never" it shows that he knows that his opinions are not definitive. A great example of Mintz' open-minded approach resides on page 109, where one can find phrases such as, "appear to insinuate", "often", and "commonly (though not invariably)." This word selection ensures to the reader that Mintz is open to anomalies, which, again, only solidifies his argument's trustworthiness.
Mintz' 214 paged book, covering but one food source, although seems daunting, was in fact, intriguing. Starting from the very beginning and using a well supported and cogent argument Sweetness and Power was an educational, as well as entertaining, read.
Most recent customer reviews
Very good book about sugar's rise and its ties to power.Read more