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The Nutmeg’s Curse
(Publication: October 2021)

In this beautifully woven work of history, essay, testimony, and polemic, Amitav Ghosh explains our
planetary crisis as the culmination of events that began with the discovery of the New World and
the sea route to the Indian Ocean. The book is throughout haunted by the Dutch Empire’s brutal
exploitation of the nutmeg in the Banda archipelago, a cluster of islands in the Indian ocean, during
the seventeenth century. The story of the nutmeg is Ghosh’s parable for a crisis that encompasses
climate change and what he calls the terraforming of our planet—a crisis whose political dynamics
are rooted in the centuries-old geopolitical order constructed by Western colonialism. Ghosh sets
this argument within a broader narrative about human entanglements with botanical matter—spices,
tea, sugarcane, opium, and fossil fuels—and the continuities that bind human history with these
earthly materials.

In Ghosh’s hands, the history of nutmeg’s exploitation by the Dutch prefigures our relationship to oil
and natural gas, and our fundamentally mechanistic view of the earth. Writing explicitly against the
backdrop of the Covid pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests, Ghosh frames these ongoing crises
in a new way by showing how the colonialist extractive mindset is directly connected to the deep
inequality we see around us today. By interweaving discussions of everything from the global history
of the oil trade, the migrant crisis, the hyper-militarization of the US, and the animist spirituality of
indigenous communities around the world, The Nutmeg’s Curse offers a sharp critique of Western
society and reveals the profound ways in which human history is shaped by non-human forces.