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The Taste of War: World War Two and the Battle for Food Hardcover

4.9 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Creates a whole new and original dimension to the disasters of war. Every page contains a fresh insight ... Powerfully written ... punctuated with brilliant micro-historical accounts, is bound to prove the most thorough and important study of the topic for many years to come -- John Cornwell A major achievement. The Taste of War presents a wholly novel approach to a conflict which still informs our understanding of the contemporary world. It will stir family memories of privation and endurance wherever it is read. -- Professor Chris Bayly, Author Of Forgotten Armies Food was so important and so universal an element to the experience of the Second World War that it is extraordinary no one has written its history before. Lizzie Collingham's pioneering book, ranging from the famine lands of Eastern Europe, China and India, via the development of German and Allied policies, to the new plenty of America, is a magnificent example of the new global history-writing at its very best. -- Nicholas Stargardt Every now and again a book comes along that transforms our understanding of a subject that had previously seemed so well worn and familiar. That is the measure of Lizzie Collingham's achievement in this outstanding global account of the role played by food (and its absence) during the Second World War. It will now be impossible to think of the war in the old way. She has added a whole new layer of understanding not only about the way the war was fought but about the gruelling consequences for tens of millions of non-combatants world-wide when the food chain collapsed. Now, once again, Collingham reminds us, the global food economy is facing a crisis. -- Richard Overy Literary Review This fascinating calorie-centric history of the greatest conflict in world history is scholarly and well-written but, above all, wholly convincing. After this book, no historian will be able to write a comprehensive history of the second world war without putting the multifarious issues of food production and consumption centre stage. -- Andrew Roberts Financial Times Lizzie Collingham's book possesses the notable virtue of originality...[She] has gathered many strands to pursue an important theme across a global canvas. She reminds us of the timeless truth that all human and political behaviour is relative. -- Max Hastings The Sunday Times Powerful and important...Like all the best ideas, Collingham's means that a lot of events fall satisfyingly into place. -- Diane Purkiss The Independent

About the Author

Lizzie Collingham is the author of Imperial Bodies: The physical experience of the Raj and Curry: a tale of cooks and conquerors, hailed by William Dalrymple as 'scholarly, accessible and above all utterly original'. Having taught History at Warwick University she became a Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge. She is now an independent scholar and writer. She has lived in Australia, France and Germany and now lives near Cambridge with her husband and small daughter.

Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Allen Lane
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713999640
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713999648
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.7 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,773,360 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a very impressive, very well researched and very well written book, describing the World War II from a perspective very little treated. Although quite familiar with this period of history, I nevertheless learned a lot and saw many things I knew in a completely new light.

Ms Collingham described in her book the policies of production, distribution and consumption of food from 1939 to 1945 in five main fighting powers: United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, Third Reich and Japan. Her writing is excellent and this book is as easy to read as if it was a novel. She describes with great precision the deadly "hunger exportation" to the East by the Third Reich in order to feed German population and the huge armed forces. Even more incredible chapter is devoted to Japan, whose leaders didn't hesitate to risk the starvation of their own soldiers in the most distant campigns (Burma, New Guinea). Hunger in Soviet Union is also described thanks to the effort of research, including sources known since long time ago, but left untreated. Finally, the much more succesful approach of the British and especially the war time boom of farming in United States bring some light in this otherwise extremely shocking and dark story.

Other than the amount of new information I was particularly impressed by the care for details, including the writing of names of people and towns. Being Polish, I couldn't help but notice that in most British and American publications names in Polish are almost always misspelled, even if they are not particularly difficult. In this book, when areas in Nazi occupied Poland are described, I couldn't find even one single error, not even when the good town of Szczebrzeszyn was mentioned - and with this name even we Poles have a lot of trouble...
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Format: Kindle Edition
The agricultural aspect of World War II has, like almost any topic pertaining to that conflict, been quite thoroughly explored over the years. Mostly, however, this has been done in limited-print government studies, or at best obscure scholarly monographs only specialists and the most dogged of history enthusiasts even know exist. In this popularizing study, Mrs. Collingham summarizes many of the findings of this literature in a more easily accessible Penguin paperback.

Collingham's scope is broad, which is both an asset and a liability. It is evident that she wishes to cover the whole range of food as a theme of the war, from top-level agricultural policy to the contents of the individual rations. Such an ambition is laudable, but forces her to treat matters which are evidently not within her ordinary area of expertise and to rely overwhelmingly on secondary sources, sometimes of variable quality. A number of errors, sometimes serious errors, are carried over wholesale from too uncritically read previous studies; for just one example, our author exhibits an unsound reliance on the German leftist historian Christian Gerlach, whose findings -- Which are controversial, to say the least, within German academe -- are largely presented as factual truth. On a less serious note, "flavor text" and "human interest" materials are sometimes lifted from discredited sources, such as the purported (but in truth, fraudulent) diaries of Marie Vassiltchikov.

On the other hand, Collingham is surely correct to highlight the crucial importance of the food supply to the whole sequence of the war.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A very good book. A must read for history buffs. Details more reasons for the horror of WWII. Actually, everyone should read this book. It may apply to some of today's political moves.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a tribute to how food historians can change the way we see history, much the way "new social history" writers (like me) did back in the 1970s. Collingham is an excellent writer. The book would be a page-turner if the subject matter weren't so grizzly.Although the book is emotionally tough to read, it offers new insight into the disgusting thinking behind the Holocaust gas chambers(depicted as a Nazi strategy to cut back on the time it took to starve people to death) and a fresh rethink of what lay behind Japanese and German expansion strategies -- the desire to have an agrarian hinterland much like the US enjoyed. The book is very thorough and well-researched. I only wish it had been a bit more explicit in linking the horrors of World War 11 to the idealism around the UN's 1945 Food and Agriculture Organization and the 1948 human rights declaration, which identified food as a human right -- both subjects that I will review in the reissue of my little book on world food systems. But I am delighted that this book bodes so well for bringing food studies perspectivesinto the writing of history.--wayne roberts
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