The taste of conquest : the rise and fall of the three great cities of spice

by Michael Krondl

Paper Book, 2007




New York : Ballantine Books, c2007.


"The Taste of Conquest offers up a globetrotting tale of unquenchable desire, fanatical religion, raw greed, fickle fashion, and mouthwatering cuisine - in short, the very stuff of which our world is made. In this enlightening and anecdote-filled history, Mitchell Krondl, a noted chef turned writer and food historian, tells the story of three legendary cities - Venice, Lisbon, and Amsterdam - and how their single-minded pursuit of spice helped to make (and remake) the Western diet and set in motion the first great wave of globalization."--BOOK JACKET.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Stbalbach
The Taste of Conquest is a history of spice as told through the stories of three European cities: Vienna, Lisbon and Amsterdam. It's wide ranging, occasionally glittering and sometimes frustrating. I listened to the audio version which is not recommended, many passages need more time to reflect on then a fast moving audio book. The narrative or "plot" can be choppy to non-existent so it rewards the reader whose interested in tangents, anecdotes and information, and unfortunately audio books are not the best format. So while I found it generally interesting while going along, I'm hard pressed to remember much afterward, it didn't sink in. Part of the problem is similar to other books in the genre I've read - Salt, Beef, Banana - the unifying theme is weak for a book-length treatment, and the narrative somewhat uncompelling.… (more)
LibraryThing member jjmcgaffey
Very interesting. The author has an interestingly snarky take on the actions of people in the past - too many popular historians spend a lot of time deploring the awful actions taken back then ("but of course they didn't really know better at the time"); Krondl reports what was done and what was thought of it at the time with a little more detachment, and the aforementioned snarky take - greed is a big motivator (then, and he doesn't quite audibly say "and now too"). The book's in three sections - well, four. Three for the three cities, then one talking about the modern world - McCormick, and Indian scientists studying the biology of the spice plants, and so on. I enjoyed the part about Venice mostly because I play in the SCA, and the discussions of medieval recipes and spice use resonated well for me. Then Lisbon, which was even more interesting because I've visited (though I don't think I saw most of what he's talking about - Lisbon lost most of its spice-funded architecture in an earthquake, and I don't think I visited the remaining places that he mentions). Amsterdam was less interesting to me, mostly because it focused on the machinations of a corporation - a new concept at the time, but surprisingly similar to what we have nowadays. In all three sections, there are descriptions of recipes (not recipes themselves, just talking about them) that make me really want to try to make them. Everything from Venetian spice cookies to "pasteis de Belem" to clove cheese - yum! The final, modern section didn't really round anything up, or come to any conclusions - it merely continued Krondl's observations up to modern times. Fewer wars, more defenses against spying. The timeline of the book is completely confused - the Venice section actually continues up until well into Amsterdam's monopoly, while Lisbon's power waxed and waned without really altering Venice's. Each section follows (as the subtitle says) the rise and fall of each city as a power in the spice trade - so the first section on Venice goes from the 1200s to the 1700s; Lisbon's part goes from...not sure of the dates. 1500s to 1600s? And then Amsterdam from 1600s to early 1800s, or so. So the discussion of events in the Lisbon section regularly referred to matters already discussed in their effects on Venice. It wasn't actually confusing, at least to me, but it's definitely not a simple, straight transfer of power between the various cities. Fascinating, I've passed it on to several other people. I may reread (which I seldom do for non-fiction), and I'm definitely keeping an eye out for other books by Krondl.… (more)
LibraryThing member wealhtheowwylfing
The tale of the spice trade in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, focusing on Venice, Portugal, and the Dutch East India Company. Krondl draws upon sources from sailors' stories to old recipes to trade routes. Unfortunately, this book is very poorly organized and the history Krondl relates is tangled in innumerable tangents. I still don't know why the Portuguese discovery of their own spice route would have stopped the Venetian trade, for instance. There are hints of breadth to this history: he notes that the Ottoman takeover of Mamluk Egypt in 1516-7 may have been partially caused by the fall in revenue from taxing the Egyptian spice trade that occurred when the Portuguese Empire enforced a spice monopoly for themselves, for example. But this is, overall, not a successful history: too jocular to be serious (with no citations! come ON!), too confused to be interesting.… (more)


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