Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2017-04-14 
Review Score: 4 out of 5 star From 45 user ratings

"I was expecting a micro-history of sugar when I first began reading, which isn't exactly what I got. The title is accurate when it says "sugar changed the world;" how sugar changed the world is the subject of the book. Aronson and Budhos recount in the introduction how their ancestral connections to sugar (Aronson' has a connection to the European beet sugar industry, and Budhos' great-grandparents made a living on a sugar plantation in Guyana) spurred them to research and write the book.

The bulk of the book is divided into four parts. The first part does a nice job of describing how sugar spread through Asia and then Europe. Part two describes the hell of living and working on a sugar plantation. There are many excellent illustrations and photographs in this section that provide a portrait of plantation life, as well as a few maps that show the flow of slaves from Africa to the New World.

Part three describes how people (including slaves in the Caribbean, Colonists in New England, and citizens in England and France) began to fight for freedom. This section was a little confusing to me at times. For instance, when it jumped from discussing a rebellion in Saint Domingue (now Haiti) to the English invasion of Jamaica I was a bit lost at first. In part four, the authors return to their family connections and how change came to the sugar industry (and the world) through social reform and scientific discoveries like the development of beet sugar.
" said.

"Junior Books

Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science
Aronson, M., & Budhos, M. T. (2010). Sugar changed the world: A story of magic, spice, slavery, freedom, and science. Boston Mass.: Clarion Books.

SLJ starred review

Sugar's bloody history is traced in this fascinating illustrated work that is suitable for middle school and older students, largely due to reading level. Delicious refined sugar cane became an instrument of change in many different ways, but the life of the sugar plantation in the Caribbean or South America is told with a most heart-wrenching insight. Sugar meant death to millions of slaves forced to work in these brutal human factories, and our appetite for it only grew even as issues of taxation, tea, and abolition became larger forces of change in the world beyond the plantation. You may never look at those simple white grains in the same way again. Special praise should go to the smartly interpretive captions that help the reader understand the motives or bias behind old illustrations or paintings--for example, paintings where slaves look especially comfortable and happy were propaganda for the trade. This critical eye towards artifacts is very useful to young readers.
" said.

"2Q 2P (my codes) 3Q 2P (actual VOYA codes)
Though the story is interesting and at times well told, overall the writing is uneven and the pacing slow. The concepts are often rather lofty but the sentence structure and vocabulary are far too simplistic. It would seem this duo has trouble understanding that, for a tween audience, the vocabulary and sentence structure can be far more sophisticated. Therefore I think this book would require a fair amount of pushing and probably a book report request from a tween. The timeline and web guide to images are interesting, and add another level of depth to the overall narrative as do the photographs and maps throughout. I think this would be a tough one to booktalk without an immediate relevant information need in place. A good choice for Common Core requirements, though.
[Note: I also detect a subtle Western- and Christian-focused bias in the book, such as in the section called "Out of War Comes Sweetness": "But with the rise and spread of Islam, those holy lands were no longer ruled by Christians. In 1095 Pope Urban II rallied the Christians of western Europe to set out on a great mission to take back those sacred lands." "Holy" is deemed to be "Christian" as is the "sacred" nature of the lands. What about Judaism? A far older religion than Christianity and one that lays a far more legitimate claim to the holiness of these lands? I also see quotes that are unattributed, such as on p. 26. Furthermore, statements like "The Muslims worked out a new form of farming..." or "The Muslims began to put together the rules for this new kind of farming..." seem rather sweeping, rather than explaining geographically where these technological advances are taking place. Religion seems to play a larger part than geography or history in much of the book at times.]
" said.

"_Sugar Changed the World_ is a history for 21st century learners. The volume enhances the historical narrative with photographs, drawings, and other primary sources, including music, while the authors ultimately credit sugar with bringing the slave versus free argument to a head, among other global developments.

It has been known that slaves possessed the knowledge that kept their masters' crops profitable, and this idea is beginning to be explored in historical works written for adult audiences. (Carney, 2001) The authors of _Sugar_ are to be commended for exploring this concept in a history written for young adult audiences, thus teaching young readers that slaves deserve not only our sympathy, but also our respect.

The credit given to sugar as a catalyst of major world events, particularly revolutions, is a bit of a stretch and the authors clearly struggle in places to keep their thesis together ("The Lawyer, 118, and "Satyagraha," 121). Furthermore, the work is peppered with such outlandish statements as, "the true Age of Sugar had begun--and it was doing more to reshape the world than any ruler, empire, or war had ever done," (35) or the even more questionable, "the abolitionists...created the most effective public relations campaign in history." (78) While such leaps are bothersome to a reader who desires historical accuracy and valid documentation, the grandiose statements do not necessarily detract from the legitimacy of the work as a whole.

In the same way, while sugar may not deserve quite as much limelight as the authors would have us believe, it is nonetheless useful to examine such significant historical events as Emancipation and India's independence through the viewpoint of one particular theme in order to gain a fresh perspective.

Though the concluding flourish, "we live in the world sugar created" (126) may be a bit presumptuous, if sugar didn't create the world, it most certainly influenced it. On that point the authors leave little room for doubt.
" said.

" Good information and pictures, tolerably written, but a bit insufferably moralizing. " said.

"YALSA Excellence in Non-fiction: 2012 Finalist

Unless this is a topic that teens are really interested in exploring, the cover of this book is not one that will draw teens to read it. The top third of the book cover shows young black children carrying sugar cane, the middle third includes the title, subtitle, and authors of the book, and the bottom third shows stalks in a field of sugar cane. The authors indicate that this book is intended for students in fifth grade and up. Fifth grade students with high level reading skills could read this book, but it would probably be easier for junior high students and up to comprehend.

This nonfiction book is filled with information not only for students, but also for teachers and librarians. There is an essay near the back of the book, intended for teachers and librarians, that explains how the book was researched and written. The essay also includes questions to ask students to deepen their learning and thought process on the subject of sugar and slavery around the world. The table of contents is well laid out so that students could easily find the information they need to read. Other useful resources for students include the timelines, web guide to color images, notes and sources, bibliography, list of websites, and an index. There are many photos, illustrations, and maps included throughout the text to give students additional information and add interest to the topic. The authors chose to use all black-and-white images, so they included a listing of images that students could find in color if they wanted to do so.

While the prologue and “Back to our stories” try to give a personalized feel to this book, it still overall feels like a text book. The writing can be interesting at times, but there are a lot of facts and information included for the reader to digest. What was unique about this book, versus most history text books, is that it included a world-wide view of events instead of a United States focused version. As the United States becomes more multicultural and the Internet brings everyone closer together it is even more important for teens to look at events from a world-wide view. This would be a great resource for any teacher discussing the history of slavery.
" said.

"SCtW is my kind of history book. Relatively uninterested in kings and politicians, this is more of a Howard Zinn-style people’s history, albeit one which far more gently grinds its axe. Christopher Columbus gets mentioned, for example, on three separate pages. The longest passage by far is only fifty-seven words. Readers will learn far more about Olaudah Equiano, an enslaved African taken to Barbados to work in sugar, or even Thomas Thistlewood, a white overseer who wrote with a kind of nauseating jocularity about the cruelties he inflicted on his charges. They’ll also learn about the university of Jundi Shapur, which flourished fifteen hundred years ago in what is now Iran and which sounds so wondrous I can’t believe I’d never heard of it before. They’ll learn that the “whitest and purest” sugar of the ancient world came from Egypt of all places. Suddenly those sugar cube pyramids we all built in grade school are elevated above the level of busywork to some kind of totemic historical metaphor.
It would be easy to call this a bitter book about a sweet spice, and there are unquestionably some difficult truths in Sugar Changed the World. There were also, for me, odd moments of pride–it was interesting to discover that the slave trade was focused so heavily in the Caribbean and South America, for example, and when I learned that only four percent of the slaves taken from Africa ended up in North America, and that these slaves had a comparatively low death rate, I chanted the feeblest U-S-A of my life. So why did I come away from this book inspired? A section on Gandhi didn’t hurt. Likewise sections on new (to me) heroes like the Haitian leader Toussaint, and English abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, a contemporary of William Wilberforce. This is an ultimately hopeful book, and I hope it finds a place in the classroom.
Excellent period illustrations and photos abound, including sample pages from a grim old children’s picture book that painstakingly details how sugar got from the West Indies to your sweet shop, and unintentionally details everything that was wrong about the Victorians. The back matter of SCtW contains a great set of appendices that include, among other things, a timeline, a web guide to additional images, and an essay aimed at parents and teachers that explains how the book was researched.
" said.

"I found a good companion book for teachers who cover the issue of slavery. Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos firmly establishes the immutable influence which sugar has imposed on the world. The core component in the history of slavery and human rights worldwide sugar has left behind it a trail of blood unequaled by any product, including cotton.

The book appeared during many of my browsing sessions on over the holidays. Always combing booksellers for new YA books, this presented itself as something for the teen community. What you get is a reference book, a little dry, which traces the human history behind the discovery and implementation of sugar cane to beet sugar to contemporary chemical processes of creating sweeteners.

I see the book being put to use in a classroom environment where you might be looking for something to challenge a student who might test out of a unit (if you do that). Perhaps you utilize the extension project for students--this would be one resource which students in Social Studies or Geography classes could certainly put to good use.

My own personal experience has been that Americans are taught about the slavery wrapped within our own dark history, but little is taught about slavery in a global sense. This book ties it all together. It is interesting to read that the world abused and then adjusted their points of view on slaves--"All Men are Created Equal" was an international concept long before the words were penned in America.

We come to learn that England imported more slaves than any country in the world (over sugar)...Hawaii is the most ethnically diverse region on the plant (because of sugar cane)...France sold the Louisiana Territory to make enough money to pay for its wars in Haiti (over sugar) which they lost...Ghandi's mantra of passive resistance or Satyagraha ("truth with firmness") began before he led his people to take India back from the British, it began when an indentured Indian slave came to him--battered cruelly while working in sugarcane.

A teacher can hand this book to a student studying Napolean, Hawaii, the Caribbean, European History, American is a versatile resource. While it is not entertaining and dry in places it is a terribly interesting story worth the twenty bucks. I'd imagine many teachers could put this to use in their classrooms.
" said.

June 2017 New Book:

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