Sweetness and Power

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Why would anyone feel the need to write an entire book on such a mundane topic such as sugar? Look around at some food products you might have and you will realize that many if not all of them contain sugar in some form or another. For example, a can of soda, which most people drink everyday, contains (depending on the brand) approximately 40 grams of sugars. Look further and you might find that even things such as cheese or chips or soup contain several grams of sugar in them. The wide diversification of products that contain sugar just goes to show you how widespread the use of sugar really is. This fact alone could be enough to convince someone to create a book solely about sugar. One passage that Mintz quotes on page 15 that really seems to capture our (Westerners) infatuation with sugar, and a strong reason the book at hand is as follows: Western peoples consume enormous per capita quantities of refined sugar because, to most people, very sweet foods taste very good. The existence of the human sweet tooth can be explained, ultimately, as an adaptation of ancestral populations to favor the ripest-and hence the sweetest-fruit. In other words, the selective pressures of times past are most strikingly revealed by the artificial, supernormal stimulus of refined sugar, despite the evidence that eating refined sugar is maladaptive.

With such an obsession with sweet foods, there is an obvious desire for an explanation of how such a once unknown substance took center stage on everybody’s snack, dessert, and candy list. That’s where Sidney W. Mintz comes into play. He decided to write this book Sweetness and Power, and from the looks of all the sources he used to substantiate his ideas and data, it seems that he is not the first person to find the role that sugar plays in modern society important. By analyzing who Mintz’s audience is meant to be, what goals he has in writing this book, what structure his book incorporates, what type, or types, of history he represents within the book, what kind of sources he uses, and what important information and conclusions he presents, we can come to better understand Mintz’s views and research of the role of sugar in history, and how much it really affects our lives as we know them. To begin to understand and evaluate Mintz’s Sweetness and Power, one must first understand who his book is aimed toward, in other words, his audience. In Jack Goody’s New York Times review of the book, he suggests that this book is not just for anthropologists: “Sweetness and Power is a fine book. It not only tells a fascinating story, it is also something of an antidote to the static quality of much anthropological writing.” Yet another review of Mintz’s book from J. H. Elliott of The New York Review of Books states: “This measured, intelligent, ambitious book has something for everybody….Mintz opens a whole series of doors onto rich and unsuspected worlds.” This shows, from two different sources in fact, that this book is not simply limited to the confines of the anthropological community and interested scholars. It is really suited for any semi-educated person who would find an interest in Mintz’s studies. Just the fact that one could find this book in nearly bookstore is a testament of how wide a market Mintz is aiming at. It seems that Sweetness and Power is targeted at anyone between from the semi-educated (i.e. student) to the highly specialized professional (i.e. others within the same field of study). It’s now apparent whom Mintz is writing this book for, but what are his goals for the book as a whole. Well, he has one collective goal for the entire work, and separate smaller goals for each one of the chapters. As a whole the book is to discuss and evaluate the role of sugar in the past, how that role has changed over the years, and what importance it has to modern society. His goal in the...
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