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Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World Hardcover – September 30, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While Americans may take a plentiful supply of hamburger patties for granted, the days of easy beef are threatened by climate change, dwindling Great Plains aquifers drained by irrigation and an unsustainable business model's thin profit margins, argue the authors of this lively and unsettling history-cum-polemic. Rimas and Fraser preface their sobering assessment with a panoramic history; they write vividly about the semimystical aurochs that became extinct in 1627, the Spanish bullfighting tradition, the African Masai's continuing reverence for cows, plagues that ravaged European herds in the 19th century, and the cowboy era of great cattle drives. Once fattened entirely on pasture grass, cattle are now confined to feedlots for half their lives, pumped full of hormones and antibiotics and stuffed with grain they aren't naturally equipped to eat, sacrificing quality for quantity. The authors lament that cows ceased to be animals and they became commodities, and they certainly aren't antimeat; their colorful account is well-seasoned with a series of culinary interludes for such dishes as bull's tail stew, steak tartare, beef jerky and, of course, the great American hamburger. (Oct.)
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From Booklist

Distinctive among the many titles currently assessing the role of carnivorism in modern life, Rimas and Fraser’s spirited approach examines the evolution of the role of beef consumption and its varying effects on diverse cultures. The aurochs depicted in primitive cave paintings offer evidence that early humans were already interacting with cattle in wild state. East Africa’s Masai still engage in exuberant communal hopping after gorging on fire-roasted beef ribs and blood-based stew. The Spanish tradition of bullfighting has less to do with food than art: it reflects the tragic, the performance played out in the corrida strikingly similar to the drama acted out in Shakespeare’s theater. Rimas and Fraser recount the little-remembered but devastating effects of rinderpest, an infectious disease that decimated Europe’s cattle into the nineteenth century, efforts to contain it thwarted by shortsighted, greedy entrepreneurs. A few well-chosen recipes break up the authors’ narrative. --Mark Knoblauch

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (September 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061353841
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061353840
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,498,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Balbach on September 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The sub-title of `Beef` hints of an "untold story". Actually, it turns out, there is not a single story, but many stories, each from 1 paragraph to a few pages long. These wide ranging mini stories, encyclopedic snippets really, are categorized into chapters along chronological order, from pre-history to the present. Such a presentation, without a central narrative, would not hold many readers attention, so the authors also took some trips to exotic locations and weave in travel tales related to beefy places and people. This is a standard creative non-fiction technique commonly found in books like Mark Kurlansky's Salt: A World History although the overall effect here is muted because there is no "mystery" to create tension. However we do get a few recipes, including how to make cheddar cheese.

The last chapter of the book is the best, from the 20th century to the present. It suggests the current industrialized methods of raising beef are unsustainable and the future will see changes. The earlier chapters about the history of beef are interesting, but prior to the 19th century, I found it somewhat meandering. It's not a scholarly or definitive treatment. I noticed a few mistakes; the authors use the term "Dark Ages", which has been largely deprecated by medieval historians; and they mistakenly use "sweetmeat" to refer to offal.(*)

Sort of like how a cow is made up of many cuts of beef, `Beef` is a a number of styles and techniques weaved together. History, travel, journalism, recipes. Some parts are more interesting than others, and it will largely depend on what the reader already knows and is interested in.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Annie Van Auken TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
BEEF is not at all some detailed and dried-as-jerky story of the common cow. Instead, this work's authors weave a fascinating history of humankind and of our relationship to the animal that has dwelt with and given us sustenance since the dawn of time.

The chronicle of our mutual development over the millenia is interspersed with recipes both ancient and modern. The book also abounds with trivia:

Cows (bovids) are members of the same family as sheep, goats and gazelles.

The aurouchs, an elephantine and unmanageable beast that yielded a ton of meat and was the subject of cave wall hunting scenes in Lascaux, France, went extinct in the year 1627.

Contrary to Hollywood's depiction of whooping cowboys on cattle drives, men who work with herds speak in low tones, as sudden noise startles these creatures endowed with extra-sensitive hearing.

Our term "cattle" originated with Old French "chattel," the word for "property." Latin for cattle: "pecu," is the origin of "pecuniary," meaning: something of value. Old English "feo" (cow) has survived as "fee." The High German word for cattle is also Gothic for money.

The central figure of the Viking creation myth is a cow that licked at a block of salty ice until the man embedded within it appeared.

The Egyptians buried cows in their family graves long before they became grain farmers.

The Israelis of Biblical Exodus had a pantheon of gods-- "El" the bull was supreme; Yahweh merely one of his many sons. The Dead Sea Scrolls say that El led the Israelis out of bondage in Egypt. When Aaron crafted a golden calf while Moses was away, it was to placate a people intent on returning to their old habits of worship. The golden calf is also mentioned in 1 Kings.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Michael Kear VINE VOICE on October 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a delightful history of cattle from ancient times until now. Well written and quite interesting not only for those who live in beef producing areas, but also for anyone who wants to know the historical background of the great American cheeseburger. I ordered this book because both of my grandfathers were cattlemen. I would have liked for the writers to spend a little more time on the lore of the west and the culture of the cowboy (which is why the book received 4 stars instead of 5). One of my favorite paragraphs in the whole book was on this subject of cowboy culture:

"Cowboys left a cultural legacy far disproportionate to their numbers, their acheivement, or their economic impact. To list all the cowboy movies, musical acts, clothing lines, and political apery would take a compendium of monstrous, even Texan, proportions, and to analyze its meaning would tax a rawhide Baudrillard. Suffice to say that in large parts of America, a Stetson is equivalent to a monk's tonsure - it's a badge of belief. Instead of believing in the holy apostolic church, though, its wearers believe in 'individualism,' in steel guitars, and in nostalgia for the open prairie." (page 167).

I wear my "tonsure" every day and this book is a good guide to the "apostolic succession" of those who wore it before me.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Everything you could ever want to know about the history of cattle and our love affair with beef can be found in this book. As someone who has personally benefited from the consumption of lots of beef over the past five years losing 180 pounds and restoring my health, BEEF: THE UNTOLD STORY OF HOW MILK, MEAT, AND MUSCLE SHAPED THE WORLD was a real eye-opener about the cherished and beloved history of this basic staple of most successful societies. I especially enjoyed the damnation the authors put on the current cattle industry for not reverting back to the old ways of raising cattle for food...something we so desperately need to get back to. Overall, I LOVED this book and think anyone--even vegetarians and vegans--should check it out!
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