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Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices Paperback – October 7, 2002
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Each spice has a page or two written about it. Included are quotes from ancient sources which mention the spice, descriptions of the plant the spice is from and how the spice is made, information on where the spice originally came from and its spread (where it came to be grown), how the spice was used, which cultures used it, the trade routes and who traded it (if known), the value of the spice (if known), and ancient recipes using the spice. There were also brief sections describing the conflicts between nations as they tried to cheaply acquire certain spices.
I would have appreciated maps showing where the spice was grown and the ancient trade routes used to get it, but none were included. However, the author did give enough of a description that I could probably work it out on my own if I spent some time at it.
While the information was interesting and detailed, it was conveyed in a very dry way, like a textbook. In fact, I think this book would have been more accurately titled The Encyclopedia of Spices. However, it's clear that the author extensively researched the topic. This book probably contains the most accurate information known about spices, so this is the book to read if you're doing research on them.
The author is clearly fascinated by ancient documents for their own sakes, and a linguist. Unfortunately for me, I'm interested in spices for their own sakes. This is scholarly enough that by page 25 I was convinced I was reading a doctoral dissertation, by page 35, I was questioning the editor's judgement. This is a stunningly dull book. Of the 200 or 300 culinary reference books I've purchased over the past 10 years, this is ONLY disappointment. It is quite functional as an insomnia cure, however.
Besides describing the history of spicees, Dalby quotes from many ancient sources, showing what people believed in the old days about spices: how they came to be, where they grew, how they were harvested. Some tales are truly astonishing, but that's no surprise, since for many centuries, spice merchants kept the true sources a closely held secret.
While not comprehensive, the book covers all the major spices and many more unusual ones. I recommend this book to all my friends who are interested in the history of spices and the spice trade.
The book is not a comprehensive view of the subject by any means, but I would still enjoy the it as a whole had it mitigated against the normal 'dry' result of reference works by being an interesting read. Dalby doesn't manage to do this at all... The style of writing is not nicely flowing and the way in which the information is organized is sterile and uninteresting. I gave him one star because I learned a FEW interesting things while reading it but ... if I am not looking at an encyclopedia or a reference text, then I want my reading material to be stimulating too.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The book is full of fascinating facts but falls between academic review and entertainment. There is no clear coherent thesis but enough stories to make a very enjoyable read... Read morePublished on February 6, 2010 by Mark K. Hersey
I found the book to contain good information, but the story line really did not flow very well for me. Read morePublished on August 21, 2007 by Tad A. Schell
Dalby does a great job of discussing spices, both common and obscure. He introduced several spices of antiquity that I'd never heard of before his book. Read morePublished on April 5, 2007 by Ralph S. Hoefelmeyer