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An Edible History of Humanity Paperback – April 27, 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company; F Second Printing Used edition (April 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802719910
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802719911
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 6.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #27,141 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Standage provides an intriguing history of how hunger has shaped civilizations and prompted technological advancements. Starting with hunter-gatherer societies, Standage traces the evolution of cuisines and addition of new ingredients to the current debates over organic and industrialized food systems. With a gentle and deep voice, George K. Wilson guides listeners through the thought-provoking theses with the tone of a knowledgeable and sincere tour guide. His emphasis and deliberate delivery help keep the prose engaging while giving sufficient aural direction for listeners to understand the relevance of a particular sentence or paragraph. A Walker hardcover. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Standage's previous book, A History of the World in 6 Glasses, theorized that the titular six drinks were reflections of the eras in which they were created. In this new work, he instead shows how one of humanity's most vital needs (hunger) didn't simply reflect but served as the driving force behind transformative and key events in history. Dividing the vast subject into six general sections (such as food's role in the development of societies and social hierarchies, its impact on population and industrialization, and its uses as a weapon both on the battlefield and off), Standage illustrates each section with historical examples and observations. Some topics, like the spice trade's encouragement of exploration, are fairly obvious choices, but the concise style and inclusion of little-known details keep the material both entertaining and enlightening. Perhaps the most interesting section is the final one, which looks at the ways in which modern agricultural needs have acted as a spur for technological advancement, with Standage providing a summary of the challenges still faced by the green revolution. Recommended for both public and academic libraries.—Kathleen McCallister, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Tom Standage is digital editor at The Economist, overseeing the magazine's website, Economist.com, and its smartphone, tablet and e-reader editions. Before that he was business affairs editor, running the back half of the magazine, and he previously served as business editor, technology editor and science correspondent. Tom is also the author of five history books, including "An Edible History of Humanity" (2009), "A History of the World in Six Glasses" (2005), a New York Times bestseller, and "The Victorian Internet" (1998), described by the Wall Street Journal as a "dot-com cult classic". He writes the video-game column for Intelligent Life, The Economist's lifestyle magazine, is a regular commentator on BBC radio, and has written for other publications including the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the New York Times and Wired. He holds a degree in engineering and computer science from Oxford University, and is the least musical member of a musical family. He is married and lives in London with his wife and children, and is currently working on his next book, on the prehistory of social media.

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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#59 in Books > History
#59 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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I think fellow foodies will enjoy this book.
S. Peterson
I went into this book cold,never having read Standage's other books,but I enjoy history and this book covered areas I had never considered but found interesting.
Kent J. Smythe
This is an accessible, enjoyable book for anyone with an interest in food's role in history.
Lynn Harnett

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on June 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
That food looms large at the crossroads of every major event in human history may seem obvious. Everybody's got to eat, right? Wars have long been fought over arable land or better hunting grounds. Innovations in food production - from fire to farming to frozen food - spur big changes in society.

Journalist and author ("A History of the World in Six Glasses") Standage takes these truisms and examines them up close, beginning with farming. Fire increased the abundance of food by making it more digestible, but farming was a mixed blessing. Yes, it allowed for increased population - predictable food supply, more babies since it was no longer necessary to carry the family from place to place - but the bigger population worked harder and was less healthy.

"Compared with farming, being a hunter-gatherer was much more fun," Standage points out. Studies of modern-day nomads show they spend less than 20 hours a week on food procurement. "If effect, hunter-gatherers work two days a week and have five-day weekends."

The farmers, with their monotonous grain diet, were also less healthy. Archaeological dental evidence shows that farmers suffered from nutritional stress and that height decreased 5 to 6 inches in both sexes in the 4,000 or so years it took for farming to take over the globe.

So why did they do it? "The short answer is that they did not realize what was happening until it was too late." It was a gradual process, in terms of the human lifetime. That climate change played a significant role seems to be the one thing most scientists agree on.
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60 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Dick Johnson VINE VOICE on April 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Anyone who has read much history and followed current events will learn little here. For those who haven't, this is a summary of many sources in one place - hence the three stars.

This was very dryly written, but don't worry - if you miss something the first time it will reappear later. A couple of things to keep in mind: Hunter-gatherers owned few or no possessions; Food was used to pay taxes which were in turn used to pay government workers. Among many others, you will be reminded of them over and over again. Too many times I said to the author "I got it the first time!"

Restating things, if enough pages have passed, can be a good thing. Rewording some concepts to insure clarity can also be good. Standage, however, detracts from the enjoyment of the book with this practice and his habit of stating the obvious.

This was a disappointing read.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Douglas B. Moran TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
(Based on an "Advance Reading Copy")

The stories in this book slightly expand upon well-known history (high-school level) with only short excursions into the food aspects of those stories, and even some of those are part of the standard curriculum. There are lots of additional little details that make the stories lively and interesting while you are reading them, but don't add to the "takeaways".
-- If you are already interested in history (like me), there is very little that you will find new or worth repeating. The extent to which the stories are pared down (omissions and over-simplifications) can become annoying.
-- If you come to this book intrigued by the title but with little background in history, this level of detail is beneficial.
-- If you remember only basic history, the stories provide some additional depth: "That's interesting" but not "Wow".

If your only brush with the study of history has been in required courses, this is a member of a large class of books that demonstrate how looking at events from different perspectives can be fun. However, for a much more satisfying introductory food-centric view of history and economics, I would recommend the book Cannibals and Kings: Origins of Cultures.

The book's writing itself is very good: clear, concise and disciplined (except for the final chapter). The story-telling is well done, and my reaction in the early chapters was that stories were cut off too soon (just as things seemed to be getting interesting).

Some other reviews commented on unnecessary repetition, but I didn't find it annoying.
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51 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Zuberdeen on April 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In general, I was disappointed in this book. I somehow expected, because of its title I suppose, that this would be an exhaustive history on human beings and their sustenance. It is nowhere near that comprehensive; however, it does offer some insights into our relationship with food as a species.

For example, there has been a great deal of controversy over GMOs -- genetically modified organisms. Some people worry that interfering with the genes of our food will have unknown consequences, and it might. However, selectively breeding certain species of plants is hardly modern; in fact, the author makes a good argument that this has likely been done since pre-history. He goes on to explain the impact that farming has had on human existence.

The author also discusses the effects of the spice trade, the use of maize, the Irish potato famine, and explores the oft-heard saying that "an army marches on its stomach." Toward the end of the book he talks about nitrogen and the impact of fertilizers.

All in all this felt like a grab bag of factoids about plant foods over the course of human history. Yes, there are some good points, but the book tends to be repetitive and the history rarely strays beyond what any decently educated person should know.

For two excellent references on food, try "The Oxford Companion to Food," and "On Food & Cooking." Both are wonderful books that should satisfy most anyone's curiosity about our "edible history."
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