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Smuggling: Seven Centuries of Contraband

Simon Harvey









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(Hardback | ISBN 9781780235950)


A cellar door creaking open in the middle of the night, or a hand slipping quickly into a trench coat – the most compelling transactions are surely those we never see. Smuggling can conjure images of adventure and rebellion in popular culture, but as this fascinating book shows, it has also had a profound effect on the geopolitics of the world. Shining a light onto seven centuries of dark history, it illuminates a world of intrigue and fortune, hinged on furtive desires and those who have been willing to fulfil them.

World-changing contraband has ranged from silk, spices and silver in the Age of Exploration to gold, opium, tea and rubber in times of empire, as well as drugs, people and blood diamonds today. Guns and art have always been smuggled, as have the most dangerous of all contraband – 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, at one point or another, have made smuggling part of their business. In addition, Simon Harvey traces out the smaller-time smugglers, the micro-economies of everyday goods, precious objects and people, drawing these stories together into a map of a subterranean world criss-crossed by smugglers’ paths.

All told, this is the story of an unrelenting drive of markets to subvert the law, and of the invisible seams that have sewn the globe together.


‘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 Smuggler’s Song.’
– Country Life

‘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.’
– Choice

‘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 summarise 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