The diverse cultures of the Caribbean have been shaped as much by hurricanes as they have by diplomacy, commerce, or the legacy of colonial rule. In this panoramic work of social history, Stuart Schwartz examines how Caribbean societies have responded to the dangers of hurricanes, and how these destructive storms have influenced the region's history, from the rise of plantations, to slavery and its abolition, to migrations, racial conflict, and war.
Taking readers from the voyages of Columbus to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Schwartz looks at the ethical, political, and economic challenges that hurricanes posed to the Caribbean's indigenous populations and the different European peoples who ventured to the New World to exploit its riches. He describes how the United States provided the model for responding to environmental threats when it emerged as a major power and began to exert its influence over the Caribbean in the nineteenth century, and how the region's governments came to assume greater responsibilities for prevention and relief, efforts that by the end of the twentieth century were being questioned by free-market neoliberals.
Schwartz sheds light on catastrophes like Katrina by framing them within a long and contentious history of human interaction with the natural world. Spanning more than five centuries and drawing on extensive archival research in Europe and the Americas, Sea of Storms emphasizes the continuing role of race, social inequality, and economic ideology in the shaping of our responses to natural disaster.
"[A] deeply scholarly work. It is also engaging to read."
– J. R. McNeill, Wall Street Journal
"[F]inely researched [...] [a] fascinating story."
– Adrian Barnett, New Scientist
"[A] remarkable book."
– James Attlee, Independent
"[A] fascinating, extremely well-researched book."
– Philip Hoare, Times Higher Education
"The author weaves a tapestry that traces the emergence of a collective awareness of this hazard during colonization of the Americas, and considers the consequences of storm damage and catastrophes for politics, economics, geography, and life in general in the modernization of both island and continental nations of the realm."
"Schwartz's book offers a refreshing perspective and is an important contribution to the study of the region's hazards and societies."
– Johannes Bohle, H-Soz-u-Kult
"Schwartz's versatility as a historian is on full display in this erudite, accessible, and ultimately essential book."
– Kris Lane, Reviews in American History
"A master synthesizer [...] Schwartz [...] does a herculean job of studying the impact that hurricanes have had on the Greater Caribbean since the days of Columbus to Katrina."
– Douglas Brinkley, Environmental History
"In this magisterial study, the histories of colonization, state formation, empire, slavery, and emancipation come into sharp relief when viewed through the eye of the hurricane. Sea of Storms is a tightly focused study that delivers perspectives as sweeping as the history of the Caribbean itself."
– Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, University of Texas at Austin
"A five-century history of wind, race, and revolution, Sea of Storms is a remarkable achievement. Schwartz manages to combine rigorous social analysis that calls to mind Fernand Braudel's longue durée with a sense of humanity equal to that of Eduardo Galeano. Timely and urgent, Sea of Storms is history at its best, revealing the past while helping us make sense of our present."
– Greg Grandin, author of The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World
"Stuart Schwartz has a vivid eye for evidence, a deft way with detail, and a knack for peopling vast historical landscapes with real lives. Sea of Storms is exemplary: a work of environmental history that's sensitive to culture, and of cultural history driven, but not determined, by the wind."
– Felipe Fernández-Armesto, author of Our America: A Hispanic History of the United States
"This is a magnificent book. In a breathtaking narrative spanning five centuries of hurricanes and their consequences, Schwartz accomplishes what no one has done before: a transnational history of the Caribbean region through the optic of one of the most widely shared of its historical experiences."
– Francisco A. Scarano, coeditor of The Caribbean: A History of the Region and Its Peoples
Chapter 1. Storms and Gods in a Spanish Sea 1
Chapter 2. Melancholy Occasions: Hurricanes in a Colonial World 33
Chapter 3. War, Reform, and Disaster 70
Chapter 4. Calamity, Slavery, Community, and Revolution 110
Chapter 5. Freedom, Sovereignty, and Disasters 145
Chapter 6. Nature and Politics at the Century's Turn 192
Chapter 7. Memories of Disaster in a Decade of Storms 226
Chapter 8. Public Storms, Communal Action, and Private Grief 272
Chapter 9. Ancient Storms in a New Century 319
Bibliography of Works Consulted 393
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Stuart B. Schwartz is the George Burton Adams Professor of History and chair of the Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies at Yale University. His many books include All Can Be Saved: Religious Tolerance and Salvation in the Iberian Atlantic World.