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Comment: The item shows wear from consistent use, but it remains in good condition and works perfectly. All pages and cover are intact (including the dust cover, if applicable). Spine may show signs of wear. Pages may include limited notes and highlighting. May include "From the library of" labels.
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Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning of Table Manners Hardcover – July, 1991

3.9 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Many dining practices--when to start eating, whether to talk or be silent, seating arrangements, the sequence of dishes--vary enormously from one culture to another. Visser elucidates the differences in a continuously involving and surprising banquet of a book, a worthy successor to her Much Depends on Dinner. Table manners, she notes, impose order and regularity on a situation in which people sit in close proximity, armed (with eating utensils) and vulnerable. This observation leads to a discussion of cannibalism, sacrifices, feasts and teaching children etiquette. Visser then takes us through a meal, with sections on toasting, dinner parties, leftovers, bodily control and much else. A smorgasbord of cross-cultural insights, delectably served, this marvelous book instills a keen awareness of the complex social ritual of eating in the company of others.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

A belief that food sharing is one characteristic that sets humans apart from animals guides Visser--a professor of classical literature and author of Much Depends on Dinner ( LJ 1/88)--on an exploration of table manners, food taboos, and eating rituals found in cultures throughout the world. Utilizing sources from literature, history, anthropology, and sociology, Visser offers a balanced explanation of how and why rules governing eating arose and why they persist. This explanation is followed by several chapters full of examples of the wide range of eating behaviors found in historical and contemporary cultures. Visser has collected a wealth of information from a varied list of sources, making her book a valuable document. The sheer volume of information and matter-of-fact tone may, however, discourage all but etiquette enthusiasts from reading the book for sheer pleasure.
- Eric Hinsdale, Simmons Coll. Graduate Sch. of Management, Boston
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Pr; 1 edition (July 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802111165
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802111166
  • Product Dimensions: 1.6 x 6.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #609,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
Margaret Visser writes on this quotidian activity with astonishing erudition. Her survey of our eating habits is global, spanning numerous societies, and she draws from all periods of our historical development. (There are roughly a thousand entries in her bibliography.) She reminds me of Simone de Beauvoir, whose also has a humbling erudition, and who used it to address the subject of woman's role in society, as well as aging. Visser draws the reader in with the antithesis of the Emily Post approach; she details the cannibalistic practices of the Aztecs, as they were first revealed (and experienced) by Spanish explorers / conquistadors.

The author devotes the first couple of chapters to our acculturation, drawing lessons from how monkeys learn to wash potatoes. She points out that children are "brought up," a passive construction, and taught the norms of social behavior. For some small segments of society, it is a never ending process; there "manners" are what set them apart from others, and re-enforce their power; others continue to try to break into society (p 69). Power relations surrounding food are just one of the recurring themes in this book. Consider: "In the modern world, where openly stratified hierarchy is an affront to the egalitarian myth, people are rarely permitted to display naked social ambition; snobbery must go decently disguised as creativity, free choice, good taste, and so forth. (p. 100). In the postscript she ruminates on the concept of "no time" in society today, and says: "Powerful people love impressing upon those needing their services that they have trouble finding time `to fit them in': making others wait because one's own time is more precious than theirs is one of the great hallmarks of desirability and success (p. 353).
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Look, I'm all for getting paid by the word - but this takes it to an extreme. In her book "Much Depends on Dinner" I rather enjoyed the long-winded descriptions and found her take on how various things fit together fascinating. Not so much this one, unfortunately.

I started reading a few paragraphs in the introduction to my family on a road trip, and it took about two miles to wade through one. Admittedly, we were on the freeway... but the writing was nowhere near as clear as the previous book I read.

As others have noted, this book is chock full of trivia... which may or may not be accurate. The research is referenced, to be sure - close to 80 pages of references in the back.

What struck me, though, was the chaotic writing style of this book. It was stream of consciousness taken to an extreme. Constant digressions were the norm, you'd be talking about table manners of an African tribe in one paragraph (and wanting to read more) and the next you were reading about something completely disconnected, yet she was attempting to show how they were related... usually failing in the attempt. Whoever edited this, if it WAS edited and this IS the result, must have had one heck of a job getting it as coherent as it is. (Which is really not saying terribly much...)

I can't recommend this book, sorry. The two stars is because it really IS very diligently (if not carefully) researched. It is full of interesting material and factoids, but it's so badly presented and poorly organized that it's one of those books you keep in the bathroom. You can dip into it for a few minutes when you're otherwise preoccupied - and by the time the author changes the subject, you're done until next time.

And somehow, I don't think it was her intent to create a specialized book like that...
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I saw this book advertised as one to give to "The person who has everything". I gave it to my parents and they loved it! I read it myself and had a ball learning all the tidbits and trivia surrounding some of our most basic rituals of everyday life. I love history and anthropology. Not having a formal background in this subject, I found this book a delight to read. It's like a PBS special in print! I strongly recommend this book. A former review objected to Ms. Vissar's connections between Judaism and Christiantity. I think her interpretation is different from what Ms. Mead was conveying. The focus is not on the specific beliefs - but the anthropological connections that humankind share - more on HOW we celebrate (lying/leanin around the dinner table (forgive my wording) vs. sitting in upright chairs or cross-legged.) That's the fun part! Who would think???? OH!!!!

A nice change of pace and wonderful book. Her other book Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal is another fun and eye-opening view of where some of our choices derive. Both books are like a scrumptious dessert at the end of a feast!
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I said it has a Eurocentric viewpoint, but it actually covers table manners from across the world...just viewed though a more European lens.

It was actually incredibly interesting. Visser does a great job of detailing both the traditions (ancient, obsolete, recent, and modern) and the reasons behind them. She also describes how a culture influences or is influenced by their food and rituals around it and provides explanation for how the rituals (and utensils) evolved. All in all, it's really very interesting. A little slow, but dense with good material, so it's alright.

For anyone interested in sociology or food history, or anything tangential, this is a pretty good read.

Only complaint was that I already read "The Gift of Thanks". There was a lot of repetition between the anecdotes shared in the two books. It would have been nice to have all new material.

I actually read this on a trip to Japan and left it at a hostel over there. Hope someone else enjoys it!
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