Friday, July 28, 2017

Giles Milton - Nathaniel's Nutmeg (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1999) ****

Wow, how I loved reading this book. It's a historical account of the nutmeg wars in the late 16th and early 17th century between the European powers: England, The Netherlands and Portugal. Nutmeg was an incredibly expensive spice, that was available from a few tiny islands in the Pacific. The profit was 3200%. It was costlier than gold.

In its incredibly detailed account, Giles Milton actually recreates the entire history directly based from source material from that time: log books, letters, correspondence between the owners and investors in the East-Indian Companies. The real account of how people treated each other is shocking to modern eyes, not only - and obviously - when you were the enemy, but also among fellow countrymen. A person's life was worth nothing. Boats expected many sailors to die while sailing across the globe. Sailors were sometimes only informed about the destination after they left the harbour. It is the story of how the British and the Dutch waged wars around the island of Run and the Banda Islands, mobilising the local people to choose sides.

In retrospect, the whole endeavour seems absurd, yet of high historical significance. In the final deal, the Dutch came to a deal with the British, and they obtained the rights for the island of Run (3km by 1 km) in exchange for New Amsterdam on the East Coast of the United States, now better known as Manhattan, which came into the hands of the British.

If you're interested in history or in the stupidity of mankind (and how we have luckily evolved over time), this book comes highly recommended.

No comments: