Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton

Nathaniel's NutmegNathaniel’s Nutmeg is the incredibly true story of the spice trade, and what a story it is! In those days, people started to get the idea that nutmeg was the overall “miracle cure” for any and every ailment. The only problem was that nutmeg, and many other useful spices, could only be found in a small part of the world known as the Banda Islands. Everybody wanted control over the small collection of islands: the English, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese, Spanish, etc. Having control over the islands was important as it kept the spice trade as a monopoly and made sure that the merchants could make a large profit from selling their spices.

Despite the fact that almost every nation tried to gain control, this book only focused on the English and the Dutch adventures in the Banda Islands. Basically, the English had already claimed a few of the islands for themselves, setting up warehouses and keeping “factors” on the island to fill up these warehouses with spices, when the Dutch entered the “spice race.” The Dutch began to do everything they could to overthrow British control, even going as far as massacring English merchants, while the English desperately tried to hold onto their control. Wars broke out between them, with all attempts at compromises ignored. Each side also had to deal with unpredictable and shifting winds, tropical diseases, and the native population at the same time. It was an intense rivalry, where only one nation could come out on top and gain control over the Banda Islands.

This book was one of the only nonfiction books I enjoyed reading. It was not like reading a dry history textbook, so it kept my attention. The only problem I have with the book was the title. It is misleading. It was not just about Nathaniel Courthope, but about the spice trade in general, including various unsuccessful attempts at finding the North-West and the North-East Passages. Courthope himself was not even mentioned until midway through the book. Even though he put up a valiant fight against the Dutch (read book for details), he did not do much to change the course of history. The author never clearly stated his point regarding Courthope, especially since he was never even the main focus, and there were other players on both sides who were equally as important. I think this book should have been called “The Spice Wars” instead. It was still interesting, and I am glad I stumbled upon the book.

Availability: SMCM
Review Submitted by: Marissa Parlock
Rating: Must Read

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