Since first reading Cod by Marc Kurlansky, I’ve loved microhistories. While microhistories look at world history from the perspective of something small (most frequently a commodity or an animal), my favourite thing about them is the way they pull together so many aspects of history. Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos continue this fine tradition in their teen book, Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science. Aronson and Budhos connect sugar to science, trade, diet, slavery, revolution, and religion (to name a few). In doing so, 10,000 years of history transforms from dry facts learned in textbooks to an engaging narrative. Common myths such as the Trade Triangle are exploded and the cruelty of the sugar plantations exposed in a human as well as factual manner. For bringing sugar’s story to life, it certainly helps that Aronson and Budhos both have family connections to disparate aspects of the sugar trade.
While very readable, Sugar Changed the World is serious history. The notes and sources are particularly in depth. There’s also an encouraging note for teachers explaining how they researched the book and the ability of children and teens to delve into complex history.
If you’ve a taste for microhistories, check out some of these titles at the Iowa City Public Library.