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Food in History Paperback – May 10, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

An enthralling world history of food from prehistoric times to the present. A favorite of gastronomes and history buffs alike, Food in History is packed with intriguing information, lore, and startling insights--like what cinnamon had to do with the discovery of America, and how food has influenced population growth and urban expansion.

About the Author

Reay Tannahill was born and brought up in Scotland, and now lives in London. Her first historical novel, A Dark and Distant Shore, was an instant bestseller, and Passing Glory won the 1990 A Romantic Novel of the Year award. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Food in History
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Revised edition (May 10, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0517884046
  • ISBN-13: 978-0517884041
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #44,454 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

87 of 90 people found the following review helpful By J. Collins on December 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
Food in History is an excellent introduction to a piece of human history that is probably so obviously important it's not widely researched: the crucial part that food played and plays in human society. Sure, everyone learns about how the spice trade was a leading factor in the Age of Exploration, and the discovery of crop rotation in the early Middle Ages, which "killed more than one child's interest in history" as the author rightly points out. This book goes much farther than that, showing the development of eating habits from neolithic man up to the early/mid 20th Century. Along the way, the author points out some truths that will be unpleasant to the food faddists of the early 21st Century: Humans ARE omnivores by evolution, and salt is also an evolution-induced craving, are just two of the basic points in the story of humans and food. (Speaking of food fads, these aren't limited to our Century and the US, fruit was considered dangerous by more than one culture and for reasons that sound depressingly familiar concerning dietary recommendations today...)
In a survey like this one, it can't do justice to EVERY culture's cuisine, but it does come close. Roman, Arab, Indian, Asian, and the influence of the Americas on European foods are well covered. The prose is lively, much wittier than I thought it would be given the subject, but also scholastic.
Is this a "popular" history? Yeah, I would say so, but there is also great material in here for the student and historian. So much so, that Food in History would make a great supplemental book for a World History course. Highly recommended.
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By M. Brock on May 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
I deeply enjoyed this engrossing read. Tannahill has done a superb job mixing history, culture, and the culinary arts. As a student of culture and a lover of food I was drawn in by Tannahill's attention to detail, while at the same time writing an informative work that was easy to read and hard to put down. My one and only criticism lies in her choices for footnotes. I was puzzled by her choice to footnote the definition for porter (it's possible that porter was a unique drink in 1977 when the book was first written), while on numerous occasions not footnoting the references to regional foods, ingredients, and preparations. I soon found that referring to my copies of the Food Lover's Companion (Herbst, 1995) and the American Heritage Dictionary (2001) made for a much fuller reading experience. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with a love of food and culture, Tannahill will not disappoint.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is a comprehensive overview of both the history of food and how food changed history. Tannahill describes what people ate all over the world from prehistoric times through the present. The book is divided into the following sections: prehistoric times, 3000 BC to 1000 AD, 1000 AD to 1492, 1492-1789, and 1789 to the present. In each section, there are separate chapters on areas of the world, such as China, India, the Arab World, Europe, and the Americas. One slightly annoying facet of the book is Tannahill's tendency to shift focus from one time or region to another as she describes a topic in detail (for example, in chapter 12 where she is describing the animals that were kept in medieval towns in Europe, she includes comments about 19th century New York.) Tannahill writes from a British vantage point, and occasionally displays some lack of understanding of American culture, which can be either amusing or annoying for American readers (such as when she suggests that America is "more hygiene-conscious than other countries" "because it played host to so many religious sects that held cleanliness inseparable from godliness"). Nevertheless, these shortcomings are quite small, and the book is extremely informative and interesting to read.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Smallchief on October 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
"Food in History" is a survey of world history from the standpoint of what people ate and when. The time period covered is from the prehistoric up until nearly the present. Along the way the author gives us a brief history of the eating habits of the Romans (unborn rabbits!), China, India, the Arabs, the Europeans, and the modern world. She includes brief histories of tea, coffee, salt, jerky, chocolate, human beings, and many other food items.

This is not a recipe or a nutrition book -- although the author includes ancient recipes and comments on nutritional diseases such as scurvy. Many a fascinating tidbit of information is found within these pages. For example, I learned that the Romans were addicted to a fish sauce they called liquamen which seems to be nearly identical to the fish sauce used in SE Asia today. The Medieval section included several hilarious pages devoted to table manners in the Middle Ages, including a dissertation on breaking wind at the dinner table. (My wife says that only guys find this subject funny.)

This is a book I've had on my shelves for decades and I pick it up now and then and read about the eating habits of one civilization or another. The prose is generally lively and authoritative. Oddly enough, food doesn't seem to have inspired many historians so this book may be the best you can find on the subject even though it was written 30 years ago.

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