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

UPDATE TIME: 2017-09-18 
Review Score: 4 out of 5 star From 45 user ratings

"_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.

"An incredibly in depth look at the history of sugar and slavery. Well illustrated with photographs and drawings, there's a lot to be fascinated - and horrified by - in this book. Aronson and Budhos do a good job of breaking down the history of sugar consumption, from New Guinea in 9000 BC to 19th century Louisiana.

While I was certainly fascinated, I found this to be such a dense book that I knew I couldn't give it a five star rating for my own personal enjoyment. But I had to knock it down another star because of two brief passages that stuck out as...awkward, to put a positive spin on it.

Pg. 39: "You might be lucky enough to be trained as a specialist - the person who watched the cane grow and who kept an eye out for when the plants were ripe and ready to be cut. Special knowledge did not make a slave any less a slave - you were neither freed or paid. But perhaps some of the enslaved people had the personal pleasure of realizing that they had knowledge that the plantation owners needed." I checked to see if there was a note in the back explaining where this notion of pleasure in slavery came from - if there was a slave narrative that had someone taking some form of pleasure in their work, this would be a much more credible statement. But since no such note exists, it seems rather tone deaf.

Similarly, on pg. 70: "Africans were at the heart of the great change in the economy, indeed in the lives of people throughout the world. Africans were the true global citizens - adjusting to a new land, a new religion, even to other Africans they would never have et in their homelands. Their labor made the Age of Sugar - the Industrial Age - possible. We should not see the enslaved people simply as victims, but rather as actors - as the heralds of the interconnected world in which we all live today." This one strikes me as worse than page 39. The slaves in the Caribbean had no choice in their situation - they were kidnapped from Africa, and their ability to act freely was removed. The enslaved Africans rarely got to enjoy the fruits of their labor - working in sugar cane was dangerous and claimed so many lives that once the Atlantic slave trade was abolished slaves weren't reproducing fast enough to maintain or increase the slave population numbers, so the sugar workers weren't usually the ones buying their freedom.

In both of these instances, I can kind of see what Aronson and Budhos were getting at, but the way they chose to phrase it was just so off that I couldn't let it go without comment.
" said.

" Rich exploration of history through the commodification of sugar. Written with Middle School readers in mind, it combines narrative, information and primary source images to explain the tangled history of trade, colonisation, slavery, and the role of our taste-buds in shaping the past to become the present. " said.

" First the authors chose to limit their narrative to the English speaking places where there was a sugar industry. Completely and totally ignoring Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Cuba, Major players in the industry. Brazil is only mentioned briefly. The whole book centers on the evils of slavery. It had very little information on the actual sugar cane growing and production. The title is extremely misleading. " said.

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