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Hamburger: A Global History (Reaktion Books - Edible) Hardcover – October 15, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

No other American food, not even the hot dog, dares lay equal claim to the hamburger’s iconic status. Food historian and sociologist Smith traces the origins of the hamburger to its murky nineteenth-century birth, refusing to credit any of the competing claims to the ground-beef sandwich’s beginning, noting the absence of any primary documentation. The hamburger might never have become America’s signature dish had it not been for the spread of the automobile, which made the drive-in the roadscape’s dominant feature. Smith recounts the history of McDonald’s and White Castle as well as that of Burger King, Wendy’s, and all the other chains that have achieved global ubiquity. Cultural warriors may object to burgers’ dominance, but people’s appetites still find them irresistible. Smith cannot write about the hamburger without treating also its helpmate, the french fry. Recipes for burgers illustrate just a few of the sandwich’s countless variations. --Mark Knoblauch

Review

"The Edible series contains some of the most delicious nuggets of food and drink history ever. Every volume is such a fascinating and succinct read that I had to devour each in just a single sitting. . . . food writing at its best!"
(Ken Hom, chef and author 2008-07-14)

“A timely retort to gourmandism run amok, the first three titles in this chapbook series aim . . . to illuminate and elevate taken-for-granted staples via concise, discrete histories. As such, Hamburger is equal parts myth debunker and modernization theorizer.—Atlantic

(Atlantic 2008-10-01)

"Books in Reaktion's Edible series are paragons of their type; concise and flavorful, jammed with interesting facts, period photos and just a handful of recipes, in case you want to 'do it yourself.' I recommend these books to foodies and academics alike."
(Robert Sietsema, restaurant critic for the Village Voice)

“The books in the Edible series combine straightforward historical data with affectionate ruminations on how the food shows up in culture: movies, music, TV shows, billboards, slogans.”—Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune

(Chicago Tribune)

“These are food memoirs, salacious and exotic, colorful, powdered, sweet, greasy and globe-trotting.”

(Christopher Borrelli Chicago Tribune)

"No other American food, not even the hot dog, dares lay equal claim to the hamburger's iconic status. Food historian and sociologist Smith traces the origins of the hamburger to its murky nineteenth-century birth, refusing to credit any of the competing claims to the ground-beef sandwich's beginning, nothing the absence of any primary documentation."
(Booklist)

"In slim formats--a lot more than a soupcon, far less than a magnum--each Edible title will spotlight a food or drink in global context. The primary intent, says the series editor, Andrew F. Smith, is to reach the 'thinking public' with matieral drawn and translated from scholarly work.  . . . Smith says he looks at food writing 'as a tool to talk about other things.' For his own Edible book, Hamburger: A Global History, a central 'other thing' is globalization, even as he starts very locally."
(Nina C. Ayoub The Chronicle Review)

"Smith knows his hamburger history . . . and his synopses of the rise of the great burger chains, and their global impact, provide an interesting point of view on the effects of globalization in the modern world."
(Eats.com)

"The remarkable feature of Hamburger is that it evinces genuine wonder at the innovation behind fast-food chains. It can be easy to deplore the rise of fast food or take it as a foregone conclusion, but Smith makes a point of celebrating ingenuity and letting the reader enjoy it, as well."
(Margot Kaminski Gastronomica)
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Product Details

  • Series: Reaktion Books - Edible
  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books; 1 edition (October 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861893906
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861893901
  • Product Dimensions: 4.8 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #836,448 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Michael Valdivielso on February 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
but with a big heart. The story of the hamburger starts out in Europe, comes to American, where is it developed, changed, made into the hamburger we know and love, then it spreads out into the world. That is why the subtitle is - A Gobal History. From Northern Germany it migrated to America where it appeared on the menu in German restaurants yet, after Philadelphia's Centennial Exposition in 1876, it soon became a common food item on all menus.
And the rest is history. McDonalds, Burger King, Wedny's, Wimpy, Big Boy, and, of course, White Castle. Hamburgers went well with fries or cola or onion rings but no matter what the side dish hamburgers had become king. BOW BEFORE THE BURGER!
Still, I prefer hot dogs.
Anyway, this book is small but holds a ton of information and I suggest it for anybody who enjoys food and the history behind it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By lindapanzo on October 31, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
This is a really interesting look at the origins of the burger but with an emphasis on burger chains, including early ones such as White Castle and later ones, too, of course. A fun installment in a great series.

I would recommend this as a short, fun read. Lots of good pictures, too!!
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Format: Hardcover
This book sometimes feels a bit too much like a laundry list for my tastes. It goes into more detail than I would really like about the not-very-exciting history of individual chain restaurants.

Having said that, I still learned quite a bit from this book, primarily about how technology shaped burgers and fries. Until the 1870s or so, ground beef was a labor-intensive (and thus expensive) food. What changed? The growth of commercial meat grinders made ground beef much cheaper, and as a result the "Hamburg steak" (aka ground beef) become a common restaurant dish. Industrialization and urban growth created a demand for fast food among workers who could not go home for mid-shift meals, and as a result "lunch wagons" arose to serve them; they turned the hamburger "steak" into a sandwich in order to make it easier for workers to handle.

And until the mid-20th century, french fries were not really "fast food" because deep frying required cooks to be careful if they did not want to be injured by boiling grease. But in the 1950s, foolproof, safe fryers were invented, and so fast-food restaurants added fries to the menu. Fast food became even faster in the 1950s, when the (then) new McDonald's restaurant saved time and labor by creating an assembly-line system for food preparation.
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By lyndonbrecht on January 28, 2015
Format: Hardcover
This is a fun book. It's breezily written, nicely illustrated and a quick read. It is more substantive that a first glance might indicate. It's from the Reaktion Books series titled Edible, and one of the better of the series (which is generally delightful). It is written more or less to a formula used in the series, but a formula that works and works well. The writing is witty and informative.

The book mainly traces the development of the hamburger as a phenomenon of American culture and how it has gone worldwide. I especially enjoyed finding out about the history of companies such as White Castle and McDonald's, and how American companies have adapted the product to new markets in China, India and elsewhere. This book forms a case study in the origin, development, and marketing of a product that has become an American cultural mainstay--and how it is becoming internationalized.

I could do without the last section on hamburger recipes, but some readers will find it interesting. It's worth a read for anyone interested in the history of an American icon.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Simple, straightforward and factually entertaining book about the history of this icon. I love the photos that added richness in the historical detail.
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Hamburger: A Global History (Reaktion Books - Edible)
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