When reading about Holland, you have to read about the spice trade. Does the Dutch East India Company ring a bell? It should. It was one of the main spice trading entities from the 17th through 18th centuries.
The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice by Michael Krondl tells the story of seven centuries of spice trading via the three great cities involved in it: Venice, Lisbon, and Amsterdam. Through the pages, we learn how spice became more valuable than gold, how it shaped civilization and spurred on exploration, and how it changed culinary tastes.
I didn’t think that a history could be so fascinating. Krondl not only discusses the history of the spice trade, but he delves into the lives of the people, the spices consumed, and the recipes used. He creates a three-dimensional image of the time. I read the book mostly for the Amsterdam angle because I’m studying the Netherlands right now (for the fun of it), but I quickly learned that the three cities of spice are tied together. As one rose, the other fell. I enjoyed reading this history; it was so compelling.
This history was not only interesting, it gave me a fresh appreciation for the spice trade. For good or ill, it was the motivation behind some of the greatest explorers and some of the most important historical moments. The history doesn’t hide from the negative aspects of the spice trade. Indeed, I reached a whole new level of disgust for the greed of the Dutch in relation to the spice trade. Some of them perpetuated atrocities—genocide—that most people today don’t know about. If you’re interested in how our modern world was forged, this book gives you an excellent start in that direction.