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Distributed for Reaktion Books


Seven Centuries of Contraband

Distributed for Reaktion Books


Seven Centuries of Contraband

A cellar door creaked open in the middle of the night, or a hand slipping quickly into a trenchcoat—the most compelling transactions are surely those we never see. Smuggling can conjure images of adventure and rebellion in popular culture—Han Solo knew all about it, as did Al Capone—but as Simon Harvey shows in this fascinating book, smuggling has had a profound effect on the geopolitics of the world. Shining a light onto seven centuries of dark history, he illuminates a world of intrigue and fortunes, hinged on outlaw desires and those who have been willing to fulfill them.
Harvey tells this story by focusing on the most coveted contrabands of their time. In the Age of Discovery, these were silk, spices, and silver. During the days of western empires, they were gold, opium, tea, and rubber. And in modern times it has been, of course, drugs. To the side of these major commodities, he looks at a wide array of things that have always been in smugglers’ trunks, from guns to art to—the most dangerous of all—ideas. Central to this story are the (not always) legitimate forces of the Dutch and British East India Companies, the luminaries of the Spanish Empire, Napoleon Bonaparte, the Nazis, Soviet trophy brigades, and the CIA, all of whom have made smuggling, at one point or another, part of their modus operandi. Beneath this, Harvey traces out the smaller-time smugglers, the micro-economies of everyday goods, precious objects, and people, drawing the whole story together into a map of a subterranean world crisscrossed by smugglers’ paths.
All told, this is the story of the unrelenting drive of markets to subvert the law, of the invisible seams that have sewn the globe together. 

352 pages | 30 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2016

History: General History

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“Harvey presents a vast worldwide view of illicit cross-border trade in goods, services, people, and even ideas from about the sixteenth century to the present, showing how smuggling is related to political interests, economic development, scientific advancement, and wars. Basing his book on considerable research, Harvey focuses alternately on different regions such as the Caribbean, where European countries undercut each other; then on individuals; next, competing monopolistic organizations such as the British and Dutch East Indies companies; followed by products such as salt, tobacco, silver, and drugs, as well as attempts to control smuggling. . . . This is a rich study. . . . Recommended.”


"Written in an accessible and lively fashion, Smuggling is an energetic, entertaining, and stimulating read. It is highly recommended to all those interested in the connections between smuggling and exploration, contraband and empire and the ways smuggler networks contribute to the global foreign policy of nation states."

History Today

"One of the many joys of this splendidly discursive yet academically rigorous book is to find that Kipling got it right in A Smugglers Song."

Country Life

"The author presents his work not only as history, but also as a form of geography, assembling an impressively wide range of material dealing with contraband. . . . It is difficult to summarize such an extensive and richly-textured study. . . . It presents a thought-provoking interpretation of smuggling, especially in its insistence on the significance of its romantic element. . . . It contains material that will be of much interest to students of maritime history not least for its probing of the subtle nuances of smuggling practices and culture."

International Journal of Maritime History

Table of Contents

Introduction: Romance, Rebellion and Power

Part One: Smuggling Explorations

1. Great Ambitions: Smuggling in the Age of Discovery
2. Monopoly! The Spice Islands and the South China Sea
3. Sea of Contraband: The Caribbean and the ‘River of Silver’
4. Smuggling Desert: The Spanish Main Today
5. A Taste for Contraband: Smuggling Blows Across the World
6. Revolution and Resistance: Turing over the Idea of Smuggling

Part Two: Smuggling Empires

7. Piratical Patriots: Fickle and Pragmatic Smugglers
8. Business as Usual: Napoleon’s English Smugglers
9. Smuggling Worlds: From the River Plate to the Red Sea
10. Shadow Empire: Addicting China to Smuggled Opium
11. Refreshment and Resistance: Too Much Opium, Too Little Tea
12. Industrial Revolutions: Slaves, Cinchona, Rubber and Technology 

Part Three: A Smuggling World

13. Smuggling Cultures: Looted Treasures
14. Bonzenflucht: The Third Reich Smuggles Itself to Argentina 
15. Black Markets: Everything at a Good Price
16. South by Southeast: Air Opium and the Arteries of Indochina 
17. Gold War Contradictions: Flying into a Storm in Central America
18. Contraband of War: American Business and African Diamonds


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Photo Acknowledgements

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