In less than a generation, North Americans' perception of tropical places changed from one of disease, danger, heat, decadence, sin, and poverty to one of excitement, exoticism, allure, and health. How and why did this transformation occur? This is the guiding intellectual puzzle shaping cultural historian Catherine Cocks's excellent book. Tropical Whites argues that changes in transportation, medicine, science, and horticulture converted the Caribbean, California, Florida, and Mexico from destinations to avoid to destinations of happiness and joy.

The writing is gorgeous as well as informative. Each of the chapters not only fits nicely in the overall argument but also reads individually almost as a self-contained article that one might find as a long piece in Vanity Fair. The secret of this writing style is Cocks's ability to have a different theme for each chapter, while the chapters are still organized...

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