Amitav Ghosh in conversation with Raj Patel
discussing his new book
The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis
published by University of Chicago Press
In this ambitious successor to The Great Derangement, acclaimed writer Amitav Ghosh finds the origins of our contemporary climate crisis in Western colonialism’s violent exploitation of human life and the natural environment.
A powerful work of history, essay, testimony, and polemic, Amitav Ghosh’s new book traces our contemporary planetary crisis back to the discovery of the New World and the sea route to the Indian Ocean. The Nutmeg’s Curse argues that the dynamics of climate change today are rooted in a centuries-old geopolitical order constructed by Western colonialism. At the center of Ghosh’s narrative is the now-ubiquitous spice nutmeg. The history of the nutmeg is one of conquest and exploitation—of both human life and the natural environment. In Ghosh’s hands, the story of the nutmeg becomes a parable for our environmental crisis, revealing the ways human history has always been entangled with earthly materials such as spices, tea, sugarcane, opium, and fossil fuels. Our crisis, he shows, is ultimately the result of a mechanistic view of the earth, where nature exists only as a resource for humans to use for our own ends, rather than a force of its own, full of agency and meaning.
Writing against the backdrop of the global pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, Ghosh frames these historical stories in a way that connects our shared colonial histories with the deep inequality we see around us today. By interweaving discussions on everything from the global history of the oil trade to the migrant crisis and the animist spirituality of Indigenous communities around the world, The Nutmeg’s Curse offers a sharp critique of Western society and speaks to the profoundly remarkable ways in which human history is shaped by non-human forces.
Amitav Ghosh is a novelist and essayist whose many books include the acclaimed Ibis Trilogy (Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke, and Flood of Fire), Gun Island, Jungle Nama: A Story of the Sundarban and The Great Derangement.
Raj Patel is a Research Professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs, a professor in the University’s department of nutrition, and a Research Associate at Rhodes University, South Africa. He is the author of Stuffed and Starved, the New York Times bestselling The Value of Nothing, and co-author of A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things. A James Beard Leadership Award winner, he is completing a film on the global food system, and is a leading thinker and organizer around the Green New Deal. He serves on the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, and has advised governments on causes and solutions to crises of sustainability worldwide. His most recent book is co-authored with Rupa Marya and is titled Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice.
Sponsored by the City Lights Foundation