The World of Sugar begins with the earliest evidence of sugar production. Through the Middle Ages, traders brought small quantities of the precious white crystals to rajahs, emperors, and caliphs. But after sugar crossed the Mediterranean to Europe, where cane could not be cultivated, demand spawned a brutal quest for supply. European cravings were satisfied by enslaved labor ; two-thirds of the 12.5 million Africans taken across the Atlantic were destined for sugar plantations. By the twentieth century, sugar was a major source of calories in diets across Europe and North America.
Sugar transformed life on every continent, creating and destroying whole cultures through industrialization, labor migration, and changes in diet. Sugar made fortunes, corrupted governments, and shaped the policies of technocrats. And it provoked freedom cries that rang with world-changing consequences. In Ulbe Bosma’s definitive telling, to understand sugar’s past is to glimpse the origins of our world of corn syrup and ethanol and begin to see the threat that a not-so-simple commodity poses to our bodies, our environment, and our communities.