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Death in the Pot: The Impact of Food Poisoning on History Hardcover – August 1, 2007


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this unexpectedly timely account, Satin makes a case for how food poisoning has affected human events over time, although he acknowledges that there's not much scientific evidence for his theories. Still, his speculations are fascinating. Satin, a molecular biologist who has worked for many years in the food industry (Food Alert! The Ultimate Sourcebook for Food Safety), relates dramatic examples of possibly toxic food and drink. He considers various theories to explain what he says is a case of mass food poisoning in the Bible, when the Israelites in the desert died after eating quail. The epidemic of lead poisoning during the Roman Empire was due to the preparation of wine in lead-lined containers and, according to the author, contributed to Rome's downfall. Leapfrogging through time, Satin describes how Westerners living in Hong Kong were deliberately poisoned with arsenic in their bread during the Second Opium War in 1857. Of particular interest is a lengthy overview of the evolution of food and beverage standards in the U.S.; first established in the late 19th century, the rules stopped the practice of harmful adulteration by unscrupulous manufacturers. He also deals with the recent outbreaks of E. coli and the possibility of bioterrorism. Though the account rambles, many of the details are quite arresting. Illus. (Aug.)
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Review

"In this unexpectedly timely account, Satin makes a case for how food poisoning has affected human events over time....[H]is speculations are fascinating....[M]any of the details are quite arresting."
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

"Satin provides a fascinating account of how food and wine toxicity changed the course of history. This is a spellbinding read for anyone interested in food, wine, science, or history."
CHRISTINE M. BRUHN, PhD
Director, Center for Consumer Research
Department of Food Science and Technology
University of California, Davis

"Death in the Pot delivers equal portions of wit and wisdom in an entertaining and informative cautionary history. Morton Satin’s examples span pre-historic times to the latest headlines and remind us of our intimate connection with the food that we eat and its potential to deliver our own destruction. Food poisoning is a topic that could easily become grim, but Death in the Pot is inoculated with enough humor to make it all very readable."
CHRIS FINDLAY, PhD
Councilor of the Institute of Food Technologists
Consultant to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books; 1 edition (August 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591025141
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591025146
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,487,727 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Morton Satin (Rockville, MD) is currently the Vice-President, Science and Research at the Salt Institute. He recently retired as the Director of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's Global Agribusiness Program. A molecular biologist, he is the author of Death in the Pot: The Impact of Food Poisoning on History.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on November 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I found this book almost impossible to put down. In six chapters, the author, a molecular biologist, describes various instances in human history in which some sort of poisoning occurred. Some of these poisonings were purely accidental while others were deliberate, but they all involved the interactions between the human body and the various toxins that can cause it harm. Indeed, one can wonder how the human race has survived for so long in view of all the dangerous substances that can be innocently ingested. The many incidents described span millennia - the latest one having occurred only a couple of years ago. For each case, the author has included the relevant historical information, the aftermath and current understanding of what happened. I found the writing style to be particularly outstanding: it is simple, clear, engaging, authoritative, friendly and quite witty in many places (in fact, on a couple of instances, I found myself laughing out loud). Although this gripping masterpiece can be enjoyed by anyone, it may be particularly relished by history, true crime and science buffs alike.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Chris Crawford on December 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Since this book has already gotten three five-star reviews, I'll put on my nasty hat and provide an alternative view. I agree that the book is a page-turner, and that's why I give it three stars. But its coverage of food poisoning through history is spotty and the author seems unwilling to really dig into the facts. What really bothers me about the book are its numerous petty errors. Spelling and grammar errors keep popping up. I'm not a snob; I can figure out what he meant to say. But all those mistakes leave me wondering about things that I didn't catch. Has the book misled me with some badly-phrased sentence?

On page 68 the author tells us that Sparta attacked Athens in 431 BCE, starting the Peloponnesian War, which lasted 27 years. On page 69 he further informs us that Thucydides wrote a history of the war -- in 431 BCE! Sure, it's just a dumb mistake, but when an author gets sloppy like that, I wonder, where else has he been sloppy?

We normally consider food poisoning to be something that arises when food in some way is tainted by bacteria or fungi. Mr. Satin expands the definition somewhat in addressing cases such as Typhoid Mary, or the adulteration of food or the inclusion of poisonous chemicals. That's OK with me -- but why didn't he bring in some of the other interesting cases of people dying from food that was deliberately poisoned? The history of Rome and Renaissance Italy bristles with cases of poisoning, but he doesn't give these incidents much attention. The reasons for including some incidents and excluding other similar events seems too arbitrary to suggest anything other than an opportunistic approach to the research. Instead of poring over the historical record, he seems to have grabbed at whatever was readily available.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on November 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
DEATH IN THE POT: THE IMPACT OF FOOD POISONING ON HISTORY is an intriguing college-level survey of how food poisoning has affected history, whether the poisoning was intentional or unintentional. From an early 5th century Athens plague probably caused by contaminated cereals which led to their defeat in the Peloponnesian War to efforts to make modern food safer, this is a fine history packed with footnoted references and perfect for both college-level history and health collections alike.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By The Stoic on November 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover
What a disappointment. Many of the flaws in this book have already been pointed out like the lack of accurate historical data and the omission of some truly significant historical events which, if it hadn't been for tainted food, would have changed the course of Western history. (No mention of the tainted food carried aboard the Spanish Armada, for instance.)
This is definitely not the quality of writing I've come to expect from authors like David Howarth or Bernard Bailyn. At times, the author repeats himself so often, I almost wondered if this book was meant for the junior high school level. This is pseudo-history with, most unfortunately, plenty of the author's personal speculations thrown in. He speculates at one point that though explorers failed to find the Northwest Passage, perhaps they soon will because of global warming. <sigh> Really? His opinions are intrusive and unnecessary since they have nothing to do with the topic at hand. I didn't read this for his opinions, I read history for facts and, if speculation is necessary for clarification, it should be preceded by "what scientists/researchers believe is..." and not "I think that...". Good thing Satin didn't quit his day job.
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