Book Review: Nathaniel's Nutmeg

, in Books, Nonfiction

Nathaniel's Nutmeg - How One Man's Courage Changed the Course of History By Giles Milton

The island of Run is pretty much forgotten, now just a small speck in the larger Indonesian archipelago. But during the 1600's, Run was the name on every European trader's lips, for it had been identified as the richest source of nutmeg. And the nutmeg trade was very lucrative indeed, with a markup of 60000 percent selling a small sack of the spice could buy a very nice house.

Nathaniel's Nutmeg is the story of how Run came to be discovered, and the extraordinary events that occurred as various kings and companies tried to lay claim to its harvest of riches. The English were trailing in the world domination stakes, the Dutch and the Portuguese pretty much had the area carved up, but the world was a lot bigger then and any policy of exclusion was tenuous at best. Both officially sanctioned and freelance expeditions from various nations sailed the perilous journey to the other side of the world, engaging in trading, piracy and conquest in roughly that order of priority. Due to various misunderstandings about where the continents lie, America was colonised almost by mistake along the way.

This is the sort of history book that can be read repeatedly. Milton mentions the important political and economic events in passing, and quickly gets to the meat of the story - tales of action and adventure on the high seas. These were the days when the line between loyal trader, privateer, and outright pirate were blurred, and diplomacy between nations was often carried out with cannon shot. The pivotal event in the plot - a four year siege of the tiny English-held (yeah!) Run Island by the hated Dutch (boo-hiss), is a particularly gripping read.

Great stuff, highly recommended.