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Caviar: The Strange History and Uncertain Future of the World's Most Coveted Delicacy Hardcover – October 8, 2002

4.9 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As the Moscow correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1994-1998 (she's now the paper's architecture critic), Saffron traveled throughout the former Soviet Union, reporting on those heady, hectic days. She also acquired a taste for caviar: "Those glistening black globules," she writes, "are a culinary Rorschach that unleashes our deeply held notions about wealth, luxury, and life." From the ghost town of Caviar, New Jersey to the illegal markets of Moscow, Saffron takes her readers on an absorbing journey as she details the bizarre and fascinating history of one of the world's most coveted delicacies. Caviar, long associated with wealthy Russian aristocracy (though originally considered a peasant food) and thought to possess both medicinal and aphrodisiacal properties, has been a source of great international controversy. Once considered the "black gold" of Russia, in the 1990's caviar became the symbol of American middle-class affluence: "When caviar prices were tumbling...Americans were making record salaries," Saffron writes, and their new wealth made them "crave the exotic." The continued demand for caviar and the sturgeon's placement on the list of endangered species has led to increasingly intricate smuggling rings. Saffron has taken an off-beat but intriguing topic, and, through her elegant and detailed prose, created a book worthy of gourmands and amateur historians alike.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

If you liked Cod, you'll love Caviar: a thoroughgoing account from a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; 1 edition (October 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767906233
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767906234
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #906,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on November 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The mystique of the sturgeon roe drew me to this book initially. As a self-proclaimed gourmand but admitted novice when it comes to caviar, I had much to learn. Ms. Saffron provides a crash course in the history of caviar to the present, and the effect of mankind's taste for the delicacy on the worldwide sturgeon population. The story is told just as that, a story of the author's hard-won education in sturgeon fishing and the caviar business, highlighting several key figures in the history of caviar. She has done an incredible amount of footwork and research, presented succintly in this volume. In the end, this small book leaves one feeling the cultural, financial, and ecological impact of the dwindling sturgeon populations, and at once stimulates a strong hunger for the tiny fish eggs and an equally strong sentiment to avoid them altogether.
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Format: Hardcover
From the famous Petrossian company, you can get 1.75 ounces of caviar from the increasingly rare Russian Beluga sturgeon, for $170. If you are bargain hunting, you can get the caviar from the white sturgeon for $88. If you are poverty stricken, Petrossian has condescended to sell salmon roe for about a ninth the cost of the white sturgeon, but salmon roe (which the Petrossian catalogue insists is "sometimes referred to as red caviar") just isn't caviar, and caviar lovers know it. Inga Saffron is a caviar lover, and shows it in _Caviar: The Strange History and Uncertain Future of the World's Most Coveted Delicacy_ (Broadway Books). She is architecture critic for _The Philadelphia Inquirer_, and was its Moscow correspondent from 1994 to 1998, when she was able to do a bit of cloak-and-dagger research into the dark alleys of the caviar trade. Her love is tempered by worry; the surprising history of humans' involvement with sturgeon has not done the sturgeon much good at all, and soon the sturgeon may not be doing any good for connoisseurs, no matter how wealthy.
The sturgeon is one of those organisms that Darwin called "living fossils." Some species have remained the same over the past 250 million years, but the past two hundred years that have given sturgeon real problems. Before that, they were not valued as food, but with the industrial revolution came better preservation and also a wealthy class that liked luxuries. Sturgeon were fished clean from the German Elbe River and the American Delaware River by the early 1900s. The stock in the Caspian sea rebounded some during the years of revolution and war in the first part of the twentieth century, and the Communists were well aware of the potential of caviar to bring cash.
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Format: Kindle Edition
In this fascinating book, journalist Inga Saffron teaches us more about the wondrous eggs of sturgeon, than you knew possible. While in Russia during the mid-1990s, Saffron was introduced to inexpensive and plentiful sturgeon. Of course, this coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the strict controls on Russia caviar production disappeared. Legitimate production increased, poaching went through the roof, and as predictable as vodka shots, the sturgeon population crashed.

Saffron presents with a thoroughly researched history of caviar, both its production, and the popularity of its consumption. Originally, the New World and European side of the old world teamed with sturgeon. Because of the peculiarities of caviar production - it takes sturgeon 10 years to reach sexuality maturity; egg harvest is fatal to the female fish; sturgeon only spawn on the river they were born; from each spawning only 1 or 2 sturgeon make it to adulthood, the odds are stacked against the sturgeon. And hence these regions were overfished in the by the 19th century. This left the Caspian sea and its rivers as the last refuge of the caviar-producing sturgeon. It was the strict controls under the Soviet era that allowed the sturgeon to flourish. Alas, the post-Soviet era lead to overfishing, both legitimate and even more so poaching, pollution further degraded waterways, and dams restricted rivers where spawning could occur. Sadly, much of the caviar, though cheap, is of greatly inferior quality. On the positive side, this has lead to a resurgence of American caviar from sturgeon and paddlefish.
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Format: Hardcover
I have been served red, black and gray caviar at "Slava", possibly the best restaurant in Moscow...and I STILL didn't like it. (Our Russian friends gladly accepted our serving like it was gold.)

This is a great, little story about caviar and the history of this delicacy and the great fish that supplies it. The sturgeon, of which there are several varieties, is an ancient animal, predating the dinosaurs. It has remained essentially unchanged because there was no reason for evolutionary modifications. It can grow to incredible sizes and the eggs sacs are astounding.

In Russia, though, the sturgeon nears extinction as the race to capture as much caviar as possible continues. In that country, it is an art - the capture, gutting, creating, selling of this product. THe author gives us first-hand experiences as we fish with the natives, suffer their increasingly declining catches and commiserate in their gloom. Then there are history lessons on both biological and cultural paths. The ending is not upbeat.. For the fish to regenerate we must rethink our ideas about what constitutes a delicacy. One problem is the low price of caviar - so low it no longer constitutes a "delicacy". A good and timely book.
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