“The panic began early in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister’s niece began to writhe and roar. It spread quickly, confounding the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, husbands accused wives, parents and children one another. It ended less than a year later, but not before nineteen men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death.Speaking loudly and emphatically, adolescent girls stood at the center of the crisis. Along with suffrage and Prohibition, the Salem witch trials represent one of the few moments when women played the central role in American history. Drawing masterfully on the archives, Stacy Schiff introduces us to the strains on a Puritan adolescent’s life and to the authorities whose delicate agendas were at risk. She illuminates the demands of a rigorous faith, the vulnerability of settlements adrift from the mother country, perched-at a politically tumultuous time-on the edge of what a visitor termed a “remote, rocky, barren, bushy, wild-woody wilderness.”With devastating clarity, the textures and tensions of colonial life emerge; hidden patterns subtly, startlingly detach themselves from the darkness. Schiff brings early American anxieties to the fore to align them brilliantly with our own. In an era of religious provocations, crowdsourcing, and invisible enemies, this enthralling story makes more sense than ever.” (Amazon blurb)
“For 200 years after 1650 the West Indies were the most fought-over colonies in the world, as Europeans made and lost immense fortunes growing and trading in sugar – a commodity so lucrative that it was known as white gold.
Young men, beset by death and disease, an ocean away from the moral anchors of life in Britain, created immense dynastic wealth but produced a society poisoned by war, sickness, cruelty and corruption.
The Sugar Barons explores the lives and experiences of those whose fortunes rose and fell with the West Indian empire. From the ambitious and brilliant entrepreneurs, to the grandees wielding power across the Atlantic, to the inheritors often consumed by decadence, disgrace and madness, this is the compelling story of how a few small islands and a handful of families decisively shaped the British Empire.” (Amazon blurb)
Why read The Sugar Barons?
This book was recommended to me recently by my father-in-law and he was really enthusiastic about it. Of course, I love the period – 17th & 18th centuries – and the transatlantic aspect really appeals to me as a Brit living in the States. I’m also pretty sucked in by the subtitle: Family, Corruption, Empire and War.
One of the reviews I read has this line which really is what I’m always looking for when I’m first getting to know a period/event:
“What I really enjoy about Mathew Parker’s style is his ingenious way of getting you hooked with one or two personal stories of individuals and families; And once he has you, the process of historical extrapolation becomes much more readable.”
Definitely think this is the kind of book that might inspire a really fascinating historical novel…