The Sugar Barons

  • by Matthew Parker
  • Narrated by Jonathan Cowley
  • 16 hrs and 20 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

To those who travel there today, the West Indies are unspoiled paradise islands. Yet that image conceals a turbulent, dramatic, and shocking history. For some 200 years after 1650, the West Indies became the strategic center of the Western world, witnessing one of the greatest power struggles of the age as Europeans made and lost immense fortunes growing and trading in sugar - a commodity so lucrative it became known as "white gold".
As Matthew Parker skillfully chronicles in his sweeping history, the sugar revolution made the English, in particular, a nation of voracious consumers, so much so that the wealth of her island colonies came to underpin the entire British economy, ultimately fueling the Industrial Revolution. Yet beside the incredible wealth came untold misery: the horrors of slavery and of slaves, on whose backs the sugar empires were brutally built; the rampant disease that claimed the lives of one third of all whites within three years of arrival in the Caribbean; the cruelty, corruption, and decadence of the plantation culture.
For those on the ground, the British West Indian empire presented a disturbing moral universe. Parker vividly interweaves the human stories - since lost to history - of visitors and slaves, overseers and soldiers, and of the families whose fortunes and fame rose and fell on sugar. Their wealth drove the development of the North American mainland states, and with it a slave culture, as the racist plantation model was exported to the warm southern states. Eventually, opposition to sugar policy in London helped to unite the North American colonies against Britain.
Broad in scope and rich in detail, The Sugar Barons freshly links the histories of Europe, the West Indies, and North America, and reveals the full impact of the sugar revolution, the resonance of which is still felt today.


What the Critics Say

"A rich, multifaceted account... Parker achieves admirable clarity and focus in this... complicated story of the sugar revolution." (Kirkus)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Little known bit of history

I am intrigued by the seemingly minor aspects of history which take on disproportionate influence when we look at the concentric rings that are sent out by a small island or tiny group of people.

Sugar did change the world. Not the commodity we think little of today, but the highly sought after luxury of centuries past. Military action, murder, intrigue, colonization and the enslavement of communities all resulted from the economic power of those who controlled the plantations.

This book is a bit drier than others on similar topics and there are times when it seems to represent the worst of school textbooks with lists of names and dates. But the story itself and the decades it covers are full of pirates, family feuds and licentious behavior, so it could not be called boring.

The narrator is fine - he does not intrude on the book, but does not particularly add anything to it. Nothing wrong - a few place and family names are pronounced differently than I am used to, but I will not claim that he is wrong and I am right as I do not know for certain.

If this is a subject you enjoy, I found Nathaniel's Nutmeg (by Giles Milton - not available on Audible) and Salt (by Mark Kurlansky - available here) to be more engaging. But this is far from a bad book and deserves its place on the shelf of those who find the history of trivial items to be eventful and enlightening.
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- Pamela

on the backs of slave labor

Way before Barbados and Jamaica were destinations for sun 'n fun, they were major producers of sugar cane. This is the story of how the sugar industry was built, mostly on the backs of slave labor. Solid narration too.
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- Andy

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-16-2011
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio