Browser reviews: The depressing history of sugar and three other books to read
David Hepworth on when the long player record ruled the music world, and a touching post-WW2 story
How Sugar Corrupted the World – From Slavery to Obesity by James Walvin is very informative but quite depressing. Photograph: Getty Images
How Sugar Corrupted the World – From Slavery to Obesity
Robinson, £ 9.99
This social history examines how the humble lump of sugar has shaped our history, whetted our appetites, rotted our teeth and expanded our waistlines. It shows how the European sweet tooth led directly to the enslavement of Africans in the Caribbean. More than 12 million Africans were kidnapped from their lands and most would wind up doing back-breaking toil in the sugar cane fields.
Rich and poor alike in Europe had become accustomed, if not addicted, to the use of more and more sugar, cheap sugar, by the 1700s. By 1950 the average Briton was consuming 110lb of sugar per year – nearly a kilo per week! Over the last two generations, although governments pursued educational policies to ensure that people would put less sugar in their tea, waistlines were increasing, not decreasing.
This was because manufacturers were sneaking sugar into anything they could, including bread, drinks and all kinds of tinned food. Now that the slavery door has been shut, the obesity door has opened. The book is very informative, but quite depressing.
A Fabulous Creation – How the LP Saved Our Lives
Bantam Press, £20
“In the spring of 1980,” writes David Hepworth, “I interviewed all three members of The Police in their homes. At the time there was no more happening act in the world.” Such an idea is hard to fathom now, just like the excitement Pink Floyd created with Dark Side of the Moon before they slipped into the musical equivalent of dad’s slippers.
This form of “remember when” drives the narrative of this book, but in a good sense. It considers the time when the “long player” record, the album, ruled the music world, an era which Hepworth defines as beginning with the release of Sgt. Pepper, and ending 15 years later with Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and the Sony Walkman revolution.
Hepworth gives an enjoyable and likeable amble through his back pages of rock-and-roll devotion, with enough nuggets, anecdotes, and bon mots to satisfy those of a certain vintage who own first pressings, and those converts who now believe that 12in of vinyl gives a more satisfying listen than any stream or shuffle.
Voices in the Evening
Daunt Books, £9.99
Here is a novel to sink in to and immerse oneself.
Set in a small Italian town after the second World War, Voices in the Evening offers a detailed and humorous account of two Italian families and their marriages, political allegiances and failed attempts at happiness. Natalia Ginzburg was a prolific Italian writer and thanks to this posthumous reprint by Daunt Books her work can be given the attention it merits.
The novel manages to be both extremely touching and all-too-brief. It is a true paragon of its time that strikes a balance between engaging plot and startlingly real characters who are born through Ginzburg’s porous and sparse style.
Herein lies the other story, the story of a mediocre love – “Happiness always seems nothing. It is like water, one only realises when it has run away”. One closes the book and feels they have left friends behind.
Postcards to Europe
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £9.99
Of the 48 British contributors – journalists, novelists, visual artists, poets, historians, economists etc – exploring their relationship with Europe here, only four are pro-Brexit. Ben Collins’s rant on British superiority blames Napoleon and American independence for the “mistake” of two-thirds of the world driving on the right and Andrew Roberts’s case for Britain’s historic exceptionalism conveniently ignores centuries of British imperial exploitation.
The cultural, historical, legal, gastronomic and other European influences on Britain are considered. Visual artist Adam Dant takes us on a tour of European cigarettes, including Sweet Afton. Some contributions are particularly moving.
Simon Garfield, whose parents’ Jewish families fled Germany, decided after Brexit to apply for German passports for his family; “the country that my parents came to fear and loathe we would embrace once more”.
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s family was exiled from Uganda in 1972 and came to England. Recently a woman spat at her on the bus and told her to “f**k out” of England. Now she “must grow old in these shrunken isles. I lost one homeland and am lost in the one I found”.