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The History of Sweets (Hardback)

P&S History Social History Colour Books

By Paul Chrystal
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 264
Illustrations: 32 colour illustrations
ISBN: 9781526778857
Published: 30th March 2021

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RRP £19.99

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We all know our sweets. We all remember sweets – objects of pure delight and the endless cause of squabbles, fights even, hoarding and swapping; a chance to gorge, suck, crunch and chew. But they’re by no means just a nostalgic thing of days past, and it’s not only children who love and devour sweets – gobstoppers, bulls eyes, liquorice, seaside rock, bubble gum and the like; grown-ups of all ages are partial to a good humbug, or a lemon sherbet or two – in the car, (annoyingly) at the cinema or while out walking – wherever and whenever, the sweet is there, the sweet delivers and the sweet rarely disappoints.

Sweets then are ubiquitous and enduring; they cross age, culture and gender boundaries and they have been around, it seems, forever. This book tells the story of sweets from their primitive beginnings to their place today as a billion pound commodity with its sophisticated, seductive packaging and sales, advertising and marketing. It explores the people’s favourites, past and present; but there is also a dark side to sweets – and this book does not shy away from the deleterious effect on health as manifested in obesity, tooth decay and diabetes. It delves into sweet and lollyshops in supermarkets and markets, retro sweet shops, fudge makers, vintage sweets on line, sweet manufacturing, chocolate, the grey line between sweets and ‘medicines’ ancient and modern. It goes round the world sucking, licking and crunching sweets from different countries and cultures and it examines how immigrants from all nations have changed our own sweet world.

I thought this was a fun read. You definitely get some interesting information and it is fun to learn about it.

NetGalley, Rachel Hurd

This book was really fascinating. I love reading the histories of everyday items, especially food.

NetGalley, Tracy Ritter

The History of Sweets by Paul Chrystal is an awesome non-fiction book!

I love diving into a great non-fiction book that teaches me something I've always been nosy about. Candy, sweets and chocolate are a popular food item that I've always been curious about, but it wasn't something I actively looked into. When I saw this book I figured it was the perfect way to give into my curiosity and learn about something at the same time.

NetGalley, Briar Ramses

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Oh, my oh my, this book will have you licking your lips and wishing you had candy to eat while reading it. Chrystal begins our journey through sweets with 10000-year-old cave paintings near Valencia and races forward at lightning speed. The book is filled with photographs, classic advertisements, and connections between food, social issues, and business. There is a plethora of information provided without reading like a lecture. Fans of candy, British social history, and food history will love this book.

NetGalley, Teresa Grabs

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I love sweets and the history of food so this book right up my alley. This book was really good. I learned quite a bit about candy that I didn't already know which was great. My only real problem with this was that it was obviously written by someone who is more familiar with British candies and sweets so I did need to look up a few things so see what Crystal was referring to. Overall this was a really good book. I can't wait to get a physical copy of this to add to my collection of food books!

NetGalley, Felicia Harris

An entertaining and enlightening book on the history of sweets. I love that it starts at the beginning of how sweet treats came about and then how they have developed and expanded over time. Having grown up in another country I can appreciate that it explores sweets from all over the world and how they differ, yet still have the power to draw and satisfy. It was good that some of the darker sides of the sweets industry is discussed as well as anything taken to excess can become harmful. This reads as an informational guide that can be read in order or hop around based on your own level of interest. The pictures are great enhancements to the content. All in all, a fun, educational look at the history of sweets.

NetGalley, Brandi Rawlins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A super interesting and fun look into the history of sweets! I’ve always been curious and when I got the chance to read this book, I was so excited. It’s definitely a great read for anyone interested in sweets and its history. The book has so any beautiful photos and fun facts to read!

NetGalley, Ashley Dang

A great book don’t read when you’re hungry !

An interesting and perceptive book making an overall interesting read.
The book describes the beginnings of chocolate and sweet making up to the present day. I was interested to read that chocolate had medicinal uses in times gone by , and I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m eating a box of chocolates.
It was fascinating to realise that Quakers were a force behind chocolate and sweet production, and this led to better working and living conditions for the workers.

I found the book an entertaining read.

NetGalley, Zoe Hitchen

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

What a temptress this book was, right after Christmas! From food chemistry to ancient historical uses to the importance of packaging to ingredients to sugar trade slaves to pharmaceutical compounding, this book is packed full of everything you've dreamed of knowing about a different side of the sweets (candy) you knew as a kid, very nostalgic. The ancient sweetener was honey. Candy business really started booming in the late 18th century and chocolate a bit later. Thank goodness for that!

The sheer amount of information in this book is astonishing...it taught me a LOT, not just about the sweet treats themselves but the importance of Brazil in sugar harvesting, thinking about how much we in the West ingest on average a year (yikes!) and learning more about exotic sweets such as edible flowers and Turkish delights. Candy was sold at apothecaries as medicine.

The biggest companies were discussed in this book including Fisherman's Friend, Fry's Cocoa, Wrigley's, Cadbury's, Rowntree's, etc. Remember candy cigarettes? I do but thought nothing of its implications at the time. They continue to be produced in a few American states. As a kid I requested candy molds instead of toys and made fondant, fancy chocolates and Easter eggs whilst dreaming of Charlie's Chocolate Factory. This book took me back to those wondrous days. A portion of this book focuses on health and nutrition.

Anyone who likes sweets or reading about them will be thrilled with this book! The historical aspects were my favourites.

NetGalley, Brenda Carleton

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a comprehensive overview of sweet, their history and form. I really enjoyed it, and learnt a lot. The section on poisons was scary, and it was fun to learn about the origins of some common treats.

NetGalley, Rebecca B

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Two decades ago, I created a chocolate and coffee resource website. Searching for interesting facts and information about my two favorite vices, back when Google searching was still in its infancy, was often frustrating. Owning a book like this back then would have been a godsend.

If you’re looking for neat and tidy timelines and orderly lists for quick reference, this isn’t that book. But if you want to immerse yourself in the rambling, world-wide evolution of sweets and the effects (good and bad) they’ve had on us, from prehistoric times to now, you’ll enjoy a sweet ride. Besides learning a lot about sugary snacks, you’ll pick up interesting tidbits about herbology, medicine, advertising, accidental inventions, and world culture.

I’d also recommend The History of Sweets to writers, especially those who write historical fiction novels. It’s the little details that bring a story to life, and being able to place the perfect treat into the hands of your characters will delight your readers. This book and its author are UK-centric, but they do provide lots of information about sweets (and candy! You’ll learn the difference) in many other countries. As an American author, I’ll keep this book with my reference guides. My Victorian-era characters will certainly appreciate my gifting them with the occasional sweet, one that's proper for their era and location.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m suddenly craving some Turkish Delight.

NetGalley, Lori Holuta

This book was "right up my street". A thorough history of sweets (mainly in Britain) with snippets of juicy information on all of the familiar names that many of us grew up with, (and some I'd never heard of!). This book covers the good, the bad and the ugly of sweets and walks us through the changes and impact of sweets over the years. A sweet read.

NetGalley, Anne Wright

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is such a fun and informative read. It gave so many fun facts about sweets and their really wild and fascinating history. You don't need to be a major history buff or a scientist to read it, as it's accessible to even the most casual readers. I loved learning little factoids such as how M&M's were originally a way to transport chocolate to the military. So much fun information packed into a little book! I enjoyed this and it would make an awesome coffee table read.

NetGalley, Mikayla Tewksbury

I am often intrigued by the history of food, and after recently reading a history of biscuits, when I saw this I was curious as to what I would find out about sweets and it certainly makes for a a great read packed with trivia and interesting reading about why we have these sweet treats in our lives today.

Starting with the ancients and then jumping ahead, we see a big change in how sweets became a thing and how they were able to be made - the chapters on slavery and sweets in particular are well researched and highlight how rife slavery was even after it was made illegal to use slaves for the collection of sugar and cocoa for chocolate and how even today people still need to be paid better.

I found the chocolate chapters really interesting, however the chapter on special sweets and their origins was also a great chapter to read, delving into jelly beans, humbugs and chewing gum and the chapter on sweets from around the world in particular sweets such as Deuk-Deuk Tong and Mantecol (a sweet treat I definitely want to try!) is also a fascinating chapter and well worth reading.

I’m never sure what to say for non-fiction, however this book certainly didn’t lose it’s flavour as it went on and gives you plenty to chew on.

NetGalley, Victoria Caswell

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

All of the historical content featured in this book was very interesting and enticing to read and sugar had its impact in a lot of historical events. I am a candy lover and have many recipes for homemade candy and chocolate and now knowing where it came from and its impact in history, I learn to appreciate it a lot more and have a more healthier relationship with sugar rather than an addictive one.

NetGalley, Meghan Soderholm

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

What is not to love about this book?! Everyone loves candy and this book has a really nice history of it all! I was surprised to learn candies started out as medicine. Then remembers salmiak pastillen, which my family ate like candy, were throat lozenges! So, yes, candies were meds before they were sweets. I loved learning about my favorites, both from Asia, Europe, North America, and the Caribbean. I had no idea candies were rationed during WW2- and even until the 1950's in some places! (how did we survive THAT?) And subversive and all other sorts of wrong stuff. It's a fun browsing book, and as we are all hunkering down during these dark, cold, days of winter, why not order a bunch of favorites, and cozy up with some hot chocolate and spend the day reading the entire book! Yummy book! I need to go find some candy now...!

NetGalley, Catherine Hankins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This title was a lot more than I expected.

I requested The History of Sweets based on that sweet (can't resist the pun!) cover, with its inviting colorful confections, and thought I'd get a rundown of the basic history of our most favorite candies. What I got was far more interesting. Yes, there is plenty of information about the sweets we love best (there is an extensive write up about chocolate, which does have a significant role in history), but there is also a fascinating account of the medicinal history of candy as well as the not so pleasant history of dangerous and deadly additives that once found their way into our stomachs.

Other interesting things that were touched upon: candy's relation to race/racism, war efforts, women's and workers rights; marketing strategies for confections throughout history; favorite candies around the world.

As this is a British title, most of the history and candy companies profiled have an English slant, and that's probably what I found the most useful. This was more than just a run down of Reece's Peanut Butter Cups and Hershey Kisses. There are also many lovely photographs and historic advertisements; my only wish was that there were even more.

Overall, this was a highly satisfying book that I'd recommend to any history fan and candy buff.

NetGalley, Michelle Fohlin

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Sweets are more of a British thing/habit to me – I don’t know a lot of North Americans who love CANDY (aka hard candies made solely of sugar as the first ingredient) as we call it…they are more into chocolate here. (candy bars to them are what we Canadians call chocolate bars) But I totally appreciated this book as it was full of information and trivia that will delight you without the carbohydrates going in your body. A sweet, adorable book …I expected no less.

NetGalley, Janet Pole Cousineau
 Paul Chrystal

About Paul Chrystal

Paul Chrystal has classics degrees from the Universities of Hull and Southampton; he is the author of one hundred or so books, a number of which are about confectionery and beverages. 


He has written features on aspects of the history of food and drink for the Daily Express , and has featured on the BBC World Service, Radio 4’s PM programme and various BBC local radio stations talking on a wide range of subjects, but notably confectionery. In 2019 Paul contributed to a six-part series for BBC2 ‘celebrating the history of some of Britain’s most iconic craft industries’ – in this case chocolate in York. He has been history advisor for a number of York tourist attractions relating to chocolate. Paul is editor of York Historian, the journal of the Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society. In 2019 he was also guest speaker for the prestigious Vassar College New York-London programme.

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