Sugar Changed The World

Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos were inspired to write this book when they discovered that they each have sugar in their family backgrounds. Those intriguing tales inspired this husband and wife team to trace the globe-spanning history of the essence of sweetness, and to seek out the voices of those who led bitter sugar lives. As they discovered, the trail of sugar runs like a bright band through world events, making unexpected and fascinating connections.

Sugar leads us from religious ceremonies in India to Europe’s Middle Ages, when Christians paid high prices to Muslims for what they thought of as an exotic spice, then on to Columbus, who brought the first cane cuttings to the Americas.
Cane–not cotton or tobacco–drove the bloody Atlantic slave trade and took the lives of countless Africans, who toiled on vast sugar plantations under cruel overseers. And yet the vary popularity of sugar gave abolitionists in England the one tool that could finally end the slave trade. Planters then brought in South Asians to work in the cane fields, just as science found new ways to feed the world’s craving for sweetness. Sugar moved, murdered, and freed millions.

From 1600 to the 1800s, sugar drove the economies of Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa and did more “to reshape the world than any ruler, empire, or war had ever done.” Millions of people were taken from Africa and enslaved to work the sugar plantations throughout the Caribbean, worked to death to supply the demand for sugar in Europe. Aronson and Budhos make a case for Africans as not just victims but “true global citizens….the heralds of [our] interconnected world,” and they explain how, ironically, the Age of Sugar became the Age of Freedom. Maps, photographs and archival illustrations, all with captions that are informative in their own right, richly complement the text, and superb documentation and an essay addressed to teachers round out the fascinating volume. Covering 10,000 years of history and ranging the world, the story is made personal by the authors’ own family stories, their passion for the subject and their conviction that young people are up to the challenge of complex, well-written narrative history. (Timelines, Web guide to color images, acknowledgments, notes and sources, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 12 & up)
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)

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16 Responses to Sugar Changed The World

  1. Janet says:

    I watched your talk on CSPAN 2 Booktalks at the Brooklyn Library. I was most impressed and have checked out your websites. I didn’t see the beginning so I don’t know where the students were from, but they were well-prepared and impressive. I am an elementary teacher; my son is a PhD candidate in History and my husband is one in Econ, but is also an historian. So I am surrounded by ideas. You are doing important work and I hope you will be able to put a link to the CSPAN 2 program on your site. I intend to email my friends (fellow teachers) to make sure they are aware of your work. I can’t wait to read your books! Congratulations on a great collaboration. Would they work for 3rd graders? I think we need materials that will appeal to that age group even if they can’t read it themselves. My son was captivated by history well before starting school.

    • marc_and_marina says:

      I have been doing some school visits with 3rd and 4th graders — using a different book that I co-wrote called Ain’t Nothing But a Man, so I am sure we can engage younger kids.

  2. Betty Holden says:

    I was able to see a small part of your discussion on C-Span and was so impressed that I immediately sent e-mail information to several friends inviting them to join me in a book discussion. I instructed them to go on the web to read about your book first. I believe we will have a group of 20 or more who will purchase your book for our gathering. Thanks for providing such interesting history.

  3. Barbara says:

    I saw your presentation on C-Span 2 and purchased the book for my 14 year old grandson, but I have great-grandchildren 6 and under. The six year old reads on a 3rd grade level. What books would you recommend for him? He loves science and geography and loves learning about countries on the family’s interactive globe. I was thinking that maybe his mother could read “Sugar”and give him a synopsis of the book and point out the history of sugar using the book and their globe. Thank you for creating this history book for children.

  4. RASHIEDA says:

    Was napping and heard your presentationon on C-SPAN…… had to open my eyes; look and listen …….. good history of “the golden triangle” of slavery with enthnography of many peoples included.

    I will order the book for my library, and place it beside one I purchased years ago entitiled Mesoamerica… a good book about foods and peoples of Middle America.

    Thanks for providing the link between Asians and the Carribean……without good historians, so much about the diversity of peoples around the world would be a puzzle to many.

    Additionally, thanks to the husband who spoke of serfdom in Germany as his link to sugar in the form of the sugarbeet and his remark that many peoples have been enslaved throughout hsitory. I recommend reading The History of Slavery, a book that speaks to this concept and the use of slave labor since earliest times in Europe.

    It’s good to have industries, economics, peoples, and cultures linked as information is being taught to children. Meaningful relationships about facts make learning fun and inquisitiveness emerges as unanswered questions come to mind.

  5. Dominic Onyema, MD says:

    I accidentally pressed ‘302’ instead of ‘602’ on the remote control in search of CBS News and found you guys on! Serendipity! I will never quite look at sugar the same way again – as a physician, my daily ‘battles’ are against sugar diabetes! Thank you for revealing this other side of the sugar story that has remained largely untold. I have been recommending your to everyone ever since ‘302’!

    • marc_and_marina says:

      when we met with the school groups one of the librarians told us that for some of those kids “sugar” means diabetes — the use the same word for the substance and the disease.

  6. Wilton Heyliger says:

    Marina, I was just looking at the presentation you and Marc made at the Brooklyn Public Library. I am from Guyana also and was very impressed by your work. I am a Caribbean history enthusiast but I did learn a lot from your presentation. The linking of global politics , economics and science was unique. I was a bit disappointed that you glossed over or simplified the English abolitionist and what motivated them to fight for the end of the slave trade and slavery itself. Perhaps, this is Marc’s omissiont as the historian. To me, history is not credible unless the whole story is told and there is the story of Wilberforce et all; converts to evangelical Christianity who challenged the established church and economic interest of the plantocracy on moral grounds.(based on the teaching of Christ and his apostles) I think I read about all this in my first history book in Guyana ” The Making of the West Indies”.

    • marc_and_marina says:

      Thank you for you comment. Christianity certainly did play a role, which we mention in the book. There is only so much we could cover on the air.

      • olgatine codrington says:

        Dear marc,and mrina, i cannot explain how you all touch me with your presentation to the young people at the Brookln Libery on ‘SUGAR CHANGE THE WORLD’.because i grew up in the days of the sugar cane which was our main industry on our small carribean island,the memories surficed like a ton of bricks,i had too much wrong spelling i felt compeled to redo my comment.The children in the picture reminds me of myself .my belly is sore just to think of those days.Thanks to you all .

  7. Mark Maloney says:

    Dear Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos,

    I watched a rebroadcast of your lecture/narrative of the impact of sugar throughout the world; “I did not know most of the history you presented regarding sugar,” thank you for educating me. As with many of your other responders, I too accidentally came across your program. You are exception educators; the best that I have ever experienced. You two definitely earned my respect, and I am looking forwards to learning more about the world we live in from you.

    I would like to invite you to visit my website: The topics I think you would be most interested in, are: The nature of “Light and Colors;” The nature of “Dreams;” The nature of “Human behavior;” The nature of “Morals;” and, The nature of “Technological discovery.” I hope you find value one or more of them.

    Knowledge is the greatest gift we can give to one-another. You two do it very well…

    Sincerely, Mark Maloney

  8. Richard Nordgren says:

    I also saw the show on CSPAN, and it brought to mind a related but different story from my wife’s family history. Her people were Molokans, an obscure Russian religious group. The Mololans immigrated to California early in the 20th century. They were farmers and in spite of the fact there was no farming in Los Angeles or San Francisco many yearned to do so. Hence they were easy picking for unscruplous labor contractors who assured them of land to farm in Hawaii in exchange for work in the sugar plantations. Hundreds took up the offer and sailed to Hawaii around 1905-06. The conditions they found there were far from what they had been led to expect; they were in effect indentured servants. Their letters to relatives on the mainland use words suggesting they felt like slaves. Many of them had to work in the sugar fields for years in order to save enough to buy a return ticket.

    • marc_and_marina says:

      How fascinating — and brings together the two sugar stories — beets and cane, Russian and tropical — in a totally new way. Can you post any of those letters to the Sugar Stories tab on this site — or links to where someone could find them?