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Book Review: “Pepper: A History of the World’s Most Influential Spice” by Marjorie Shaffer

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Pepper: A History of the World’s Most Influential Spice by Marjorie Shaffer is a history of the trade oin black pepper. Ms. Shaffer is a business reporter and science writer.

Book Review Pepper A History of the Worlds Most Influential Spice by Marjorie Shaffer It journeys through the competition between the Dutch, English and Portuguese merchants through the 16th and 17th centuries. A nod towards the end of the book to 19th-century American pepper traders ties up the history nicely.

Pepper, at the time the account begins, was a very valuable commodity, worth more than gold or silver. In 1498, Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama managed to get around the Cape of Good Hope and opened up the sea routes to China and India. Unknowingly, de Gama made it possible for the super-powers at the time to establish colonies – and compete to control the pepper trade.

Seafaring was a dangerous occupation and the book doesn’t mince words. The history of this pungent spice is riddled with pirates, wealth and greed. Characters of all types grace the pages of history, from William Dampier, an English pirate who protested the treatment of natives, to Jan Pieterszoon Coen, a brutal governor.

I found the most interesting part of the book was the account of the use of pepper for medicinal purposes. I am not a big believer in medication; I think we take too much of it and without any precautions.

I don’t want to be a guinea pig for big-pharma nor do I want to introduce harmful chemicals to my body. Pepper, it seems, has been used as almost a “cure all” for many diseases. Over the years that knowledge was lost but now scientists are starting to discover that maybe there is something to it after all.

Those looking for recipes or culinary uses for black pepper will be disappointed, those looking for a frank, honest look at history of trade and empire building rewarded. The author uses first-person accounts from journals and ship logs to make interesting points and bring history to life.

Buy this book in paper or electronic (Kindle) format.

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