It wasn’t until I read the back cover of this book—post-library—that I realized that Sidney Mintz is first and foremost an anthropologist1 (at John Hopkins, to be precise), and suddenly I realized that this book about sugar was not going to be the masturbatory ramblings of Steve Almond’s Candyfreak or even Mark Pendergrast’s historical Uncommon Grounds, but rather like the excerpt from your high school history textbook that talks about the post-Revolutionary War shipping triangle between Africa, the Caribbean, and America2.
The long and short of it is that this book is a snooze. Not to bash Mintz, who is eminently intelligent and well-spoken, but Guns, Germs, and Sugar3 this ain’t. The premise is that sugar radically changed the nature of the human diet (staple carbohydrate, accented by meat and produce), and that it, like coffee, has seen the rise and fall of empires. There is an enormous political lobbying group dedicated just to the sweetener industry. Wild, innit?
I can’t find much to say about Sweetness and Power that doesn’t deal directly with its content. If you’re really curious about it, or have the stomach for these sorts of things, then by all means give it a read: it’s certainly informative, in that same sense that alcohol is liberating. But a recommended read? Eh, not so much.