Another Review of the Rise and Fall of the Sugar King

Geoffrey Cobb’s third book of North Brooklyn history is as readable, informative and entertaining as the first two (“Greenpoint Brooklyn’s Forgotten Past” and “The King of Greenpoint”), but “The Rise and Fall of the Sugar King” differs from them in a few important ways. In this latest volume, not only has Cobb shifted his focus from the Greenpoint neighborhood to its southern neighbor Williamsburg, but he has also expanded the scope of his narrative. The book tells the story of the Havemeyer family and the ways in which their sugar refining business largely shaped the North Brooklyn that we know today, with a particular focus on Henry Havemeyer, the titular “Sugar King,” and his role in the sugar cartel that wrapped Gilded Age America in an economic stranglehold. It also describes the horrific working conditions in Havemeyer’s sugar refineries and the tremendous economic inequalities of the time, as well as the lives of everyday members of the Williamsburg community and their struggles with religious and racial prejudice and anti-immigrant sentiment – issues that, unfortunately, remain all too relevant today. “The Rise and Fall of the Sugar King” is a window into the history not only of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but America in general, and it tells the story of often-overlooked events that have led us to the present day in personal, individual and relatable terms – no small accomplishment.

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