by Ian Burnet
published by Rosenberg Publishing
RRP $39.95 (200pp; 250mm x 19mm)
If you were to be questioned about what Zheng He, Christopher Columbus, Vasco Da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan and Francis Drake had in common, you might first answer that they were all extraordinary sailors of their time, who explored the world beyond what their own historians and geographers told them was possible. But there is a closer, more intriguing answer that ties them all together.
Throw in Marco Polo, The Dutch, English and French East India Companies and numerous Portuguese, Spanish, Venetian, Arabian and other sailors and traders and what melds the lot is the story of cloves and nutmeg and their unique origin and habitat of the Spice Islands. It is the story of how these noble spices came to the world to become more valuable than precious metals and gemstones that Ian Burnet sets out to relate in his 2011 published Spice Islands.
Ian Burnet’s fascination with the Spice Islands has lasted a couple of decades and it was to satisfy his craving for understanding and recording their history that he sailed to the major islands, Ternate and Tidore, met their erstwhile rulers and got on with the job of writing his book. That the intrigue of spices has been around for 2,000 years or more only gave him more encouragement and he joins an elite band of authors who have recorded their existence, as far back as Pliny the Elder and Ptolemy, who noted the demand for spices (for all sorts of reasons – health and cooking among them).
The Spice Route was developed and exploited for trade by Arab sailors and merchants, but the real spice of the trade seems to be in the long standing rivalry between the sultans of Ternate and Tidor. At its peak, this rivalry pitted the populations of the two islands against each other, at the same time as they encouraged alliances between whichever powers (principally Portuguese or Spanish) seemed to offer the best opportunity to put the other down.
The search for the Spice Islands led apparently to other accidents of maritime history. To think that Columbus set out to find the shortest route to the Spice Islands only to run into the American Continent on the way seems to belittle that famous discovery. Likewise Magellan’s and Drake’s circumnavigations, almost disastrous in the first case and nefarious in the second, might be overshadowed by the simplicity of their initial goals – to locate and dominate the spice trade.
In the event, of course, the Dutch East Indies Company dominated the trade until it went broke and a certain Frenchman, ironically named Pierre Poivre, managed to smuggle some plants out of Indonesia to Madagascar to spread the production of cloves and nutmeg to other countries. But no matter the somewhat downward path of the spice trade, Ian Burnet has captured its romance in his very readable and interesting book, Spice Islands.
published by Adlard Coles Nautical
(152pp; 350mm x 260mm)
The Sea is a collection of photographs supplied by photographers from all over the world, supplemented by introductory text by Nic Compton, a freelance writer and photographer. The book’s sub-title is “A photographic celebration of the first wonder of the world”.
It is, as promised, a spectacular book, showcasing stunning images of the world’s oceans. It is divided into chapters – Land, Air, Ice Afloat, Wilderness, Wildlife and Paradise – all jam packed with mostly single page but often double page photos of immense beauty and photographic skill. These photos show why your average PHD camera (press here dummy) only gets you happy snaps. One for the coffee table after you have done your own drooling.