The Caribbean—to which parts of the southern coast of the United States arguably belong—is full of places that lag behind economically. Are there common causes for their misfortunes? Gibson’s social history focuses heavily on the destructive legacy of slavery, the bitter divisiveness of racism, and the brutality and inequalities of the opulent sugar plantations that dominated Caribbean economies for 300 years. The imperial powers and their commercial enterprises benefited mightily from the region’s resources—Europe’s Industrial Revolution was financed with sugar money—often with callous disregard for the suffering of native populations. This is a somewhat familiar story, but Gibson tells it in fluid, colorful prose peppered with telling anecdotes. She takes note of the region’s many despots but does not underscore poor governance as a driving force behind the region’s disappointing performance. She also asserts, not quite convincingly, that the Caribbean remains a crossroads at the center of human history: it’s more likely that the mostly small island states of the region will continue to struggle for the attention of the world’s bigger powers and that they will have to learn to make better use of their own resources to survive in today’s fiercely competitive global economy.
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