Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization

Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization

Iain Gately

Language: English

Pages: 416

ISBN: 0802139604

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Tobacco was first cultivated and enjoyed by the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas, who used it for medicinal, religious, and social purposes long before the arrival of Columbus. But when Europeans began to colonize the American continents, it became something else entirely -- a cultural touchstone of pleasure and success, and a coveted commodity that would transform the world economy forever. Iain Gately's Tobacco tells the epic story of an unusual plant and its unique relationship with the history of humanity, from its obscure ancient beginnings, through its rise to global prominence, to its current embattled state today. In a lively narrative, Gately makes the case for the tobacco trade being the driving force behind the growth of the American colonies, the foundation of Dutch trading empire, the underpinning cause of the African slave trade, and the financial basis for our victory in the American Revolution. Informed and erudite, Tobacco is a vivid and provocative look into the complex history of this precious plant. "A rich, complex history ... Deeply engaging and witty." -- Carmela Ciuraru, Los Angeles Times "Ambitious ... informative and perceptive ... Gately is an amusing writer, which is a blessing." -- Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post "[Gately] documents the resourcefulness with which human beings of every class, religion, race, and continent have pursued the lethal leaf." -- John Leland, The New York Times Book Review

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was working far in excess of its capacity. The new Fabrica had been opened as a replacement for the St Pedro factory in 1687 during the reign of Carlos II, its construction part financed by his treasury. It soon outgrew its site, absorbing some of a neighbouring monastery and a series of charity dwellings dedicated to housing the poor. Demand for the snuff the Fabrica produced was soaring – in 1702 it had manufactured 1.1 million Spanish pounds, in 1722 nearly 3.1 million. In 1728 work began on

pleasure, but also a ritual of immense significance. At least two of their principal gods were habitual smokers. The Mayans celebrated tobacco’s place in their culture. Numerous extant artefacts testify to their official and recreational dedication to the weed. Its ritual importance derived from its symbolic role as a medium of transporting the blood offerings which were central to Mayan theology and culture towards heaven. The Mayans believed mankind had been created from the blood of God, and

limits of tree growth in the north. With the exception of the frozen tundra of Alaska and Canada, wherever there were men, tobacco was consumed. Some tribes who practised no other form of agriculture planted and cared for tobacco. The Tlingit Indians, an Alaskan tribe of hunter-gatherers, took a break from hunting and gathering to cultivate tobacco. Similarly some of the plains tribes, including the Blackfoot and the Crow, to whom growing vegetables was anathema, planted and nourished the weed.

limits of tree growth in the north. With the exception of the frozen tundra of Alaska and Canada, wherever there were men, tobacco was consumed. Some tribes who practised no other form of agriculture planted and cared for tobacco. The Tlingit Indians, an Alaskan tribe of hunter-gatherers, took a break from hunting and gathering to cultivate tobacco. Similarly some of the plains tribes, including the Blackfoot and the Crow, to whom growing vegetables was anathema, planted and nourished the weed.

the Pacific Ocean, and separately on the return east, when they took different routes home. Both were back in Washington by 1806, and when the results of their surveys were published a wave of enthusiasm swept through the citizens of the United States as they contemplated a migration west. They were motivated, in part, by similar impulses to their English forebears – they believed they had been selected by God, or destiny, to civilize heathens and to cultivate wildernesses. They were exhorted

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