I won't repeat the details here. Those unsure of their interest in the subject can glance at the Wiki entry. Here are some other tangentially-related gleanings from the book:
“…the Guild of Pepperers, one of the most ancient of London’s city guilds, was established at least before 1180... formally registered as an importer of spices in large, or gross, amounts: its members were called grossarii, from which comes the modern word grocer.”Perhaps the main reason the book is such a pleasant read is that it's author is Simon Winchester, author of the (even-more-interesting) The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Alfred Russel Wallace’s middle name is a misspelling as a result of an error by Usk’s registrar of births.
“…in the center of the ballroom [in Batavia, pre-eruption] was a fountain gushing not water but pure eau de Cologne…”
Eau de Cologne: A perfumed spirit invented by an Italian chemist, Johann Maria Farina [1685-1766], who settled in Cologne in 1709. The usual recipe prescribed twelve drops of each of the essential oils bergamot, citron, neroli, orange and rosemary, with one dram of Malabar cardamoms and a gallon of rectified spirits, which are distilled together. – definition from Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1959.