After that fateful landing in 1492, the British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, and even the Swedes, Scots, and Germans sought their fortunes in the islands for the next two centuries. Some failed spectacularly: a poorly executed settlement in Panama led the Scots to lose their own independence to England. The Spaniards were the first to find prosperity, in Mexico but also along the islands. In Hispaniola, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, they built grandiose cathedrals and extracted shipfuls of gold and silver, which English, French, and Dutch pirates were happy to seize. But precious metals weren't a sustainable export--the colonizers needed something that was, and they would need hordes of slaves to cultivate it.
The Caribbean's first cash crop, one indigenous to the New World, was tobacco, and it, along with sugar, spurred expensive new addictions back in Europe. Gibson argues that immaterial exports were just as important. No other region of the world has experienced such a vibrant mixing of cultures, religions, and peoples--Africans, Europeans, Asians, and Amerindians created amazingly dynamic Creole societies that complicated traditional ideas about class and race. By the end of the eighteenth century, seventy thousand free blacks and mulattos lived in the British islands alone, and it was in the Caribbean that the world's only successful slave revolt took place--sparking the meteoric rise of Napoleon's black counterpart, Toussaint L'Ouverture, and the Haitian Revolution.
The Caribbean island of St. Eustatius had been the first to recognize the United States as a nation, but the Americans were soon vying for their own imperial stronghold in the West Indies, attempting to control Cuba and backing influential corporations, most notably United Fruit. In the twentieth century, most of the islands broke from the imperial traditions that had lorded over them for four centuries: this would be the explosive age of decolonization and "banana republics," of racial riots and negritude, of Cold War politics and tourist crowds.
At every step of her expansive story, Gibson wields fascinating detail to combat the myths that have romanticized this region as one of uniform white sand beaches where the palm trees always sway. Evocatively written and featuring a whole cast of cosmopolitan characters, Empire's Crossroads reinterprets five centuries of history that have been underappreciated for far too long.
- ISBN-13: 9780802126146
- ISBN-10: 0802126146
- Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Pr
- Publish Date: November 2014
- Page Count: 448
- Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.25 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.55 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-11-17
- Reviewer: Staff
Gibson, a former journalist for the British newspaper, the Guardian, offers a thoroughly-researched and meticulously-detailed history of the Caribbean. In its vivid descriptions, Gibson's book is a powerful indictment of the sad story of colonialism and equally powerful commentary on the savagery of slavery. Ever since the arrival of Columbus in 1492, Caribbean lands have been variously dominated by the colonial French, Portuguese, English, and Dutch empires. Thus, it has also been the site of wars over political control and natural resources, massive revolts (particularly by slaves), and revolutions. Because the Caribbean has historically been a microcosm of competing national interests, Gibson helpfully provides enough international history to place the region's experience firmly in a global context. For instance, she shows how in the 20th century the Cold War reached deep into the region, with the Cuban missile crisis a prime example. Gibson unblinkingly describes the challenges facing the region, among them Haiti's efforts to rebuild after the 2010 earthquake, Cuba's need to replace the economic support it lost upon the Soviet Union's collapse, and the West Indies's need to manage the economic distortions and contradictions inherent in the invasive tourist industry. Gibson demonstrates a deep affection for the region and captures its rich, complex history. (Nov.)