Spice: The History of a Temptation

Jack Turner (Author)
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Product Description

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.


From the Hardcover edition.

    Product Details

    • Paperback: 384 pages
    • Publisher: Vintage (August 9, 2005)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0375707050
    • ISBN-13: 978-0375707056
    • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
    • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces

    Editorial Reviews

    Amazon.com Review

    There was a time, for a handful of peppercorns, you could have someone killed. Throw in a nutmeg or two, you could probably watch. There was a time when grown men sat around and thought of nothing but black pepper. How to get it. How to get more. How to control the entire trade in pepper from point of origin to purchase. In Spice: The History of a Temptation, classics scholar Jack Turner opens up the whole story of pepper and its kind like a ripe melon. He brings the exotic scents of the East deep into the history of Western culture.

    Everyone knows a little bit of the story, how the desire to control the spice trade drove Western nations deep into the heart of the Age of Discovery, the Portuguese sponsoring Da Gama's push to India; the Spanish underwriting the many attempts of Columbus to get to India another way. The Western madness for spice was just about peaking in this time, and spice would all too soon become--gasp--common, much like the afterthought condiment it is for so many today. Who thinks twice about pepper any longer?

    And yet, the history is long and glorious, and the window spice throws open on Western culture yields a glorious view. Jack Turner is a skilled tour guide and story teller. He starts his narrative with the 16th century quest for spice, then loops back into three mains sections of text: Palate, Body, and Spirit. Turner has mined classic and Medieval literature for any and every possible mention of spice and demonstrates how fixated the West became from the time of Augustus in Rome through to relatively modern times. He winds his narrative through the way spice was used in the foods of the wealthy (and puts to sleep the nostrum about rotting food), as a medicine, a sex aid, and as an aromatic channel to the gods of the time and place. He ably demonstrates the constant underlying tension surrounding spice--that it was both attractive and repellent, that it represented fabulous wealth and power for some and, for others, an abhorrence of the exotic East that exists to this day.

    This is not an easy story to tell. But Turner makes it appear effortless. Pull a chair close to the fire, pour a draught of spiced wine, crack open Jack Turner's Spice and you'll read your way into the wee hours of the night. --Schuyler Ingle --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

    From Publishers Weekly

    Spices helped draw Europeans into their age of expansion, but the Western world was far from ignorant of them before that time. Turner's lively and wide-ranging account begins with the voyages of discovery, but demonstrates that, even in ancient times, spices from distant India and Indonesia made their way west and fueled the European imagination. Romans and medieval Europeans alike used Asian pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and mace to liven their palates, treat their maladies, enhance their sex lives and mediate between the human and the divine. While many of these applications were not particularly efficacious, spices retained their allure, with an overlay of exotic associations that remain today. Turner argues that the use of rare and costly spices by medieval and Renaissance elites amounted to conspicuous consumption. He has perhaps a little too much fun listing the ridiculous uses of spices in medieval medicine—since, as he notes in a few sparse asides, some spices do indeed have medicinal effects—and fails to get into the real experience of the people. His account of religious uses, on the other hand, paints a richer picture and gets closer to imagining the mystery that people found in these startlingly intense flavors and fragrances. It is this mystery and the idea that sensations themselves have a history that make the entire book fascinating. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

    Customer Reviews

    Average Customer Review (44 customer reviews)

    5 star:
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    4 star:
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    3 star:
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    A Little Bit Of Everything., December 21, 2004

    By John D. Cofield 5.0 out of 5 stars5.0 out of 5 stars5.0 out of 5 stars5.0 out of 5 stars5.0 out of 5 stars

    This is a nice, well written history of spices and their effects on humanity. Much of the book deals with the spice races of the 1400s and 1500s and the impact on the world and on Europe's rising power. Other sections deal with spices and their roles in history, cooking, romance, politics, religion, and war. The book is not arranged chronologically but instead in broad categories devoted to spices' various uses. Turner is scholarly but also witty and informal in his writing. You will learn a lot and also have a lot of fun while reading his book.

    The History of Spice, and Spice in History, August 27, 2004

    By R. Hardy 'Rob Hardy' 5.0 out of 5 stars5.0 out of 5 stars5.0 out of 5 stars5.0 out of 5 stars5.0 out of 5 stars

    Three thousand years after one of the greatest of Egypt's pharaohs, Ramses II, was embalmed and put into his tomb, he was discovered to have a couple of peppercorns up his nose. This was in some ways unsurprising. The Egyptians used all sorts of spices to preserve the body so that the soul might wander back into it. But regarded historically, this is an astonishing use of pepper; the peppercorns were not any African species, not anything Ramses's lands had grown. The only source at the time was the tropical south of India; there must have been a previously unsuspected direct or circuitous trade route between the regions. No details about the route can now be known, except that it was part of the lucrative spice trade that for centuries powered economies and exploration. In _Spice: The History of a Temptation_ (Knopf), Jack Turner includes the story of the first known consumer of pepper along with hundreds of other facts as a way of looking at a part of human history that was...

    Sweeping historical examination of a neglected topic, February 23, 2005

    By AcornMan 5.0 out of 5 stars5.0 out of 5 stars5.0 out of 5 stars5.0 out of 5 stars5.0 out of 5 stars

    There are already several very detailed reviews here about this book, so I'll avoid repeating what they said. I'll just add my four-star rating by saying that this is a surprisingly interesting and easy to read book, given the fact that the main topic is not something one might expect to be particularly captivating. But Turner's excellent writing style, combined with an amazing amount of research spanning several topics from history to religion, makes this a thoroughly enjoyable book from front to back. The only reason I didn't give it a full five stars was that, if anything, it's a bit too long and spends too much time going into excrutiating detail on minor points. I think the author could have shortened this book by nearly a hundred pages and still achieved the full effect he intended. However, he certainly does present an exhaustive discussion of this topic and I am amazed at how much I learned. One final note: Perusing through the bibliography after I finished, I was utterly...

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