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The Rituals of Dinner Paperback – July 1, 1992


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The Rituals of Dinner + Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal + Food in History
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (July 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140170790
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140170795
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #592,396 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Visser's banquet of a book, a worthy successor to her Much Depends on Dinner , elucidates cultural differences in dining practices.
Copyright 1992 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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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I'm giving it two stars because she supplies references.
Irene Fuerst
For anyone interested in sociology or food history, or anything tangential, this is a pretty good read.
Amber M. Anderson
Not having a formal background in this subject, I found this book a delight to read.
Karen Wagner

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on May 31, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful 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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45 of 62 people found the following review helpful By CC on March 15, 2004
Format: Paperback
Margaret Visser's advice has been quoted on Sage Asian Advice on Soup Etiquette, and the advice looks to me entirely misleading. It reads: "A Chinese banquet often begins with fruit and ends with soup." Being a Chinese myself and have attended numerous banquets, I have never seen fruit being served at the beginning and soup at the end. It will help if Ms. Visser can clarify what kind of banquet she had actually observed or attended. The regular way is soup being served close to the beginning after the cold and hot appetizers, and fruit is served at the very end together with dessert.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Karen Wagner on November 4, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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