Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

Empire’s Crossroads

A History of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day

by Carrie Gibson

A gripping narrative history of the entire Caribbean, from first exploration to today, by a talented British American historian.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 480
  • Publication Date November 10, 2015
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2431-9
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $22.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 480
  • Publication Date November 11, 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2614-6
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $28.00

About The Book

Ever since Christopher Columbus stepped off the Santa Maria and announced that he had arrived in the Orient, the Caribbean has been a stage for projected fantasies and competition between world powers. In Empire’s Crossroads, British American historian Carrie Gibson offers a vivid, panoramic view of this complex region and its rich, important history.

After that fateful landing in 1492, the British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, and even the Swedes, Scots, and Germans sought their fortunes in the islands for the next two centuries. Gibson opens with these fraught years of discovery and settlement, which gave way to a booming age of sugar, horrendous slavery, and extravagant wealth, and in turn the Haitian Revolution and the long struggles for independence that ushered in the modern era.

From Cuba to Haiti, from Jamaica to Trinidad, the story of the Caribbean is not simply the story of slaves and masters, but of fortune seekers, pirates, scientists, and tourists. Gibson tells not only of imperial expansion—European and American—but also of life as it is lived in the islands, from before Columbus through the tumultuous twentieth century. Evocatively written, Empire’s Crossroads reinterprets five centuries of history that have been under-appreciated for far too long.


“Required reading for everyone with a fascination for the Caribbean; recommended for all who wish to acquire one.” —Peter Chapman, author of Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World

“Gibson manages to weave 500 years of complex history into a brilliantly coherent and thematic narrative. . . . [A] strikingly assured debut.” —Observer

“There can never be too many books about the Caribbean, a region whose diversity and cultural richness is unparalleled, and Carrie Gibson’s new offering is a welcome addition to the canon.” —BBC History

“Ambitious. . . . With rare narrative verve and a gift for synthesis, Gibson compresses the islands’ histories into a wide-ranging, vivid narrative.” —Guardian (UK), “Best History Books of 2014”

“Gibson knows how to hold a reader’s interest with gems of fact and sometimes poetic prose.” —New York Times Book Review, “Editors’ Choice”

“With such variegated histories, the islands of the Caribbean would seem to defy a unified treatment, yet Gibson identifies themes common to large ones, such as Hispaniola, and small ones, such as Montserrat. . . . Sympathetically attuned to the hard actualities of life in ostensibly paradisiacal tropics, Gibson delivers a fine, faceted history for general-interest readers.” —Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

“A marvelously rich and inclusive panorama of five centuries of Caribbean history. . . . A work that brings fresh energy, assurance and insight to an area that is not often the focus of historians. Gibson’s study is sure to gratify academics, history buffs, and anyone intrigued by the Caribbean’s colorful, volatile, and multifaceted societies.” —Michael Rodriguez, Library Journal (starred review)

“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 . . . Gibson tells [the story] in fluid, colorful prose peppered with telling anecdotes.” —Foreign Affairs

“Gibson synthesizes and integrates some of the most important insights from recent historical scholarship on slavery, capitalism, and empire into an accessible survey of over five centuries of Caribbean history. The Cambridge-educated author combines the careful reflexivity and nuance of a seasoned historian with the verbal dexterity and attention to current events of an accomplished journalist, producing a book that is both readable and thought provoking, regionally specific and globally aware, historical yet exceedingly relevant to today’s most pressing issues. . . . An excellent introduction to Caribbean history for non-specialists.” —B. A. Lucero, Choice

“A rich and thorough history of the Caribbean from colonialism to the present day . . . Carrie Gibson’s thoughtful and extensively researched Empire’s Crossroads is a revelation. It is both a readable and in-depth study . . . a valuable work that is required reading for scholars and students . . . impassioned and anecdotally rich.” —Christian Science Monitor

“An ambitious work bringing together fragmented histories of more than 20 different islands across an area of 3,000 miles . . . bolstered by her travel experiences in St. Martin, Trinidad, Guyana and other places.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Gibson’s research is thorough . . . and there is much for the historian and academic to chew on . . . but the nonspecialist need not be daunted; Gibson knows how to hold the reader’s interest, and before you get too entangled in her meticulous research, she offers gems, sometimes poetic prose, often fascinating facts.” —Elizabeth Nunez, New York Times Book Review

“Carrie Gibson has written a judicious, readable and extremely well-informed account of a part of the world whose history is seldom acknowledged. Too many people know the Caribbean only as a tourist destination; she takes us, instead, into its fascinating, complex and often tragic past. No vacation there will ever feel quite the same again.” —Adam Hochschild, author of To End All Wars and King Leopold’s Ghost

“[A] sharp, gripping new overview of the region’s history. . . . Empire’s Crossroads is a great read about some fantastically absorbing—and to many people, little-known—history. . . . An exceptionally impressive debut.” —Literary Review (UK)

“A panoramic view of this complex region and its rich history.” —Publishers Weekly

“[An] epic history of the Caribbean . . . vivid and thought-provoking.” —Spectator (UK)

“Carrie Gibson has written a compelling history of the Caribbean, rightly placing it at the heart of European imperialism. This is a gripping account by a gifted scholar and story-teller.” —Tristram Hunt, British Shadow Secretary of State for Education and author of Marx’s General, The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels

“Carrie Gibson asks not just how Europe shaped the Caribbean, but how the islands in turn shaped Europe and the rest of the world. Her approach is fresh and important. Empire’s Crossroads skillfully shows the complexity of the Caribbean and its striking ability to adapt to and push back against the forces that have shaped the region.” —Michele Wucker, author of Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola

“Who knew that King James (the Bible one) was one of history’s first anti-smoking activists? Who could have guessed in advance that tourist promoters would turn a desolate isle in Haiti, the hemisphere’s poorest nation, into ‘paradise’ behind a chain-link fence? In Empire’s Crossroads, Carrie Gibson shows how seemingly isolated anecdotes, in the right hands, can be used to form a mosaic that shows us the meaning of history.” —T. D. Allman, author of Finding Florida


A Hudson Booksellers’ Best Nonfiction Book of the Year
An Amazon Best Book of the Month
A Observer (UK) Best History Book of 2014


On the mountainous island of Martinique, there is a statue of a headless woman. Under the shade of leafy trees, and mounted on a sturdy plinth, she is dressed in the sort of empire-waist gown that was fashionable in the late eighteenth century. In her right hand she holds a rose to her chest; her left is resting on top of a large cameo, with the profile belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte. The statue is of his first wife, Marie-Jos’phe-Rose Tascher, perhaps the most famous (or, indeed, infamous) daughter of Martinique.

No one is certain when she was decapitated, but the head is long gone and there has never been any effort to fashion a new one for the Rose of Martinique, as she was known. Lashings of red paint now adorn her body. The antipathy from Martinicans comes not just from the fact that she was a planter’s daughter, or that she was Napoleon’s wife, but from the convergence of the two: many islanders believe she convinced him to reinstate slavery in the French colonies eight years after its abolition in 1794 in order to protect her family’s fortunes.

There is no evidence that she said anything to Napoleon about slavery, but the myth lives on.

This story captures almost every element of Caribbean history: the connection between the tiny island and powerful people in Europe; the legacy of slavery; the persistence of myths and legends; and the idiosyncratic way that it has been memorialized. The statue remains in the island’s capital, headless and daubed with paint, facing the sea.