The History of a Temptation
By Jack Turner
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780375707056, 384pp.)
Publication Date: August 9, 2005
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A brilliant, original history of the spice trade—and the appetites that fueled it.
It was in search of the fabled Spice Islands and their cloves that Magellan charted the first circumnavigation of the globe. Vasco da Gama sailed the dangerous waters around Africa to India on a quest for Christians—and spices. Columbus sought gold and pepper but found the New World. By the time these fifteenth- and sixteenth-century explorers set sail, the aromas of these savory, seductive seeds and powders had tempted the palates and imaginations of Europe for centuries.
Spice: The History of a Temptation is a history of the spice trade told not in the conventional narrative of politics and economics, nor of conquest and colonization, but through the intimate human impulses that inspired and drove it. Here is an exploration of the centuries-old desire for spice in food, in medicine, in magic, in religion, and in sex—and of the allure of forbidden fruit lingering in the scents of cinnamon, pepper, ginger, nutmeg, mace, and clove.
We follow spices back through time, through history, myth, archaeology, and literature. We see spices in all their diversity, lauded as love potions and aphrodisiacs, as panaceas and defenses against the plague. We journey from religious rituals in which spices were employed to dispel demons and summon gods to prodigies of gluttony both fantastical and real. We see spices as a luxury for a medieval king’s ostentation, as a mummy’s deodorant, as the last word in haute cuisine.
Through examining the temptations of spice we follow in the trails of the spice seekers leading from the deserts of ancient Syria to thrill-seekers on the Internet. We discover how spice became one of the first and most enduring links between Asia and Europe. We see in the pepper we use so casually the relic of a tradition linking us to the appetites of Rome, Elizabethan England, and the pharaohs. And we capture the pleasure of spice not only at the table but in every part of life.
Spice is a delight to be savored.
Jack Turner was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1968. He received his B.A. in Classical Studies from Melbourne University and his Ph.D. in International Relations from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar and MacArthur Foundation Junior Research Fellow. He lives with his wife, Helena, and their son in Geneva. This is his first book.
“Spice is an erudite and engaging account of how foodstuffs can change the flow of history.” – New York Times Book Review
"Jack Turner handles his subject with discernment and confidence, his style appropriately brisk and animated. . . . Impressive and reassuring is his combination of sympathetic understanding and tough-minded rationalism. Although he never condescends to the past, neither does he ever blur the line that separates fascinating lore from the objective truths of science." – Los Angeles Times
“A nifty grab bag of a book. Entertaining and informative.” –San Jose Mercury News
“A hugely enjoyable book, written with erudition, style and wit.” –New Scientist
“Spice is deliciously rich in odors, savors, and stories. Jack Turner quickens history with almost bardic magic, pouring his personality into his narrative without sacrifice of scholarship.” –Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
"Based on research that is broad and deep, Turner succeeds remarkably well in capturing the evanescent attractions of spice." –Orlando Sentinel
“Stimulating. . . . Spice is stuffed with memorable details. . . .Turner writes with pace and intelligence.” –New Statesman
“Jack Turner possesses the two ingredients most essential for the great historian–scholarly detachment allied to a passionate obsession with his subject. He also writes uncommonly well. A splendid book.” –Philip Ziegler
“Turner’s banquet É is, as he admits, a ramble, but it is a fascinating one — urbane, anecdotal and easily digestible.” –Scotsman
“Sumptuous...Turner quotes well and widely from literature, and has a flair for anecdote.” –The Guardian
“Turner brings serious scholarship to bear on his subject, quoting from all manner of obscure texts in ancient languages. But his gentle, ironic wit makes him a light-hearted companion. . . . The book shimmers with life, with real people springing from every page, some of them millennia old. . . . Turner’s enthusiasm carries it all forward with terrific momentum.” –The Tablet
“A fascinating and scholarly book that can help you improve both your cooking and your sex life. An excellent piece of work.” –Peter Mayle