Cover image for Empire's crossroads : a history of the Caribbean from Columbus to the present day
Empire's crossroads : a history of the Caribbean from Columbus to the present day
Gibson, Carrie, 1976- , author.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Atlantic Monthly Press, [2014]
Physical Description:
xxviii, 447 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color), maps ; 24 cm
Traces the story of the coveted area from the northern rim of South America up to Cuba, exploring its history from the arrival of Columbus through colonialism to the present, offering a panoramic view of this complex region.

In October 1492, an Italian-born, Spanish-funded navigator discovered a new world, thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean. In Empire's Crossroads, Carrie Gibson, unfolds the story of the Caribbean, from Columbus's first landing on the island he named San Salvador to today's islands-- largely independent, but often still in thrall to Europe and America's insatiable desire for tropical luxuries. From the early years of settlement to the age of sugar and slavery, during which vast riches were generated for Europeans through the enforced labour of millions of enslaved Africans, to the great slave rebellions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the long, slow progress towards independence in the modern era, Gibson offers a vivid, panoramic view of this complex and contradictory region. From Cuba to Haiti, from Jamaica to Trinidad, the story of the Caribbean is not simply the story of slaves and masters, but of fortune-seekers, tourists, scientists and pirates. It is not only a story of imperial expansion-- European and American-- but also of life as it is lived in the islands, both in the past and today.
General Note:
"First published in Great Britain in 2014 by Macmillan, an imprint of Pan Macmillan"--Title page verso.
A passage to the Indies -- Steeping stones to the New World -- Pirates and Protestants -- Sugar -- The rise of slavery -- A world at war -- Haiti, or, The beginning of the end -- Cuba and the contradictions of freedom -- Banana wars and global battles -- The road to independence -- The Cold War in the tropics -- Island life -- Import/export -- Invented paradise -- Timeline : key events in the Caribbean -- Gazetteer : The Caribbean (and surroundings).
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F2175 .G52 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
F2175 .G52 2014 Adult Non-Fiction New Materials

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Ever since Christopher Columbus stepped off the Santa Maria onto what is today San Salvador, in the Bahamas, and announced that he had arrived in the Orient, the Caribbean has been a stage for projected fantasies and competition between world powers. In Empire's Crossroads , British American historian Carrie Gibson traces the story of this coveted area from the northern rim of South America up to Cuba, and from discovery through colonialism to today, offering a vivid, panoramic view of this complex region and its rich, important history.

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 n#65533;gritude, 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.

Author Notes

Carrie Gibson completed a Ph.D. at Cambridge University focusing on the Spanish Caribbean in the era of the Haitian Revolution, and for many years she also worked as a journalist for the Guardian . She has travelled widely across the West Indies, and spent many months researching in archives there, including in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. She currently splits her time between New York City and London.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

With such variegated histories, the islands of the Caribbean would seem to defy a unified treatment, yet Gibson identifies themes common to large ones, such as Hispaniola, and small ones, such as Montserrat. Since discovered by Columbus in 1492, these places have experienced a colonization process involving investors searching for minerals and profitable crops, finding labor to extract or cultivate them, and defending their wealth against European rivals. Prominent in Gibson's able account, therefore, is slavery. Its adoption in lieu of indentured labor, slave revolts rumored or actual, slavery's abolition in the 1800s, and contemporary race relations on the islands run chronologically through Gibson's work. Alongside her stark descriptions of the slave economies, Gibson recounts geopolitical events that have periodically wracked the Caribbean Sea, from wars galore in the 1700s to the Cold War, as well as the supplanting of European suzerainty by American influence, expressed today more by cruise ship than by gunboat. Sympathetically attuned to the hard actualities of life in ostensibly paradisiacal tropics, Gibson delivers a fine, faceted history for general-interest readers.--Taylor, Gilbert Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Starred Review. Independent historian Gibson's nonfiction debut is a marvelously rich and inclusive panorama of five centuries of Caribbean history. The author characterizes the Caribbean region as a global crossroads (hence the title) where Africans, Asians, Europeans, and indigenous peoples collided and intermingled to form syncretic creole societies. The Spanish, French, British, and Dutch battled rebels and rival empires as they built exploitative colonial economies powered by slavery and sugar plantations, followed by 20th-century interventions and eventual profiteering by American interests. Also spotlighted is the disconnect between the poverty and joblessness gripping the largely Afro-Caribbean islanders and the walled-off enclaves and luxury cruises that sustain the complacent fantasy of the Caribbean as a playground for mostly white tourists. Gibson is judicious in her sympathies, decrying the region's persistent homophobia and corruption while highlighting the cultural vitality of the calypso musicians and the nuances of Cuba's decades-long communist experiment. Omission of the islands' indigenous past proves only a minor shortcoming in a work that brings fresh energy, assurance, and insight to an area that is not often the focus of historians. VERDICT Gibson's study is sure to gratify academics, history buffs, and anyone intrigued by the Caribbean's colorful, volatile, and multifaceted societies.-Michael Rodriguez, Hodges Univ. Lib., Naples, FL (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Gibson synthesizes and integrates some of the most important insights from recent historical scholarship on slavery, capitalism, and empire into an accessible survey of over five centuries of Caribbean history. The Cambridge-educated author combines the careful reflexivity and nuance of a seasoned historian with the verbal dexterity and attention to current events of an accomplished journalist, producing a book that is both readable and thought provoking, regionally specific and globally aware, historical yet exceedingly relevant to today's most pressing issues. Although the author strays from the traditional argument-driven narrative, she points out that her most pervasive theme is "the genius of adaptation" to the convergence of worlds and all the violent forces it wrought in the Caribbean: slavery, racism, poverty, disease, tourism. Gibson's expertise on Cuba in the era of the Haitian Revolution is evident in an excellent synthesis of the way that development set in motion changes in the institution of slavery and the debates and duties of empire for decades afterward. Although greater variation from the conventional top-down approach would have been welcome, this is an excellent introduction to Caribbean history for non-specialists. Summing Up: Essential. Public and undergraduate collections. --Bonnie A. Lucero, University of Texas-Pan American