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Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization Paperback – January 3, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (January 3, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802139604
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802139603
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #755,770 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Iain Gately's Tobacco is a sweeping cultural history of the world's most prevalent addiction, and it's probably the best book ever written on its subject. Gately begins in pre-Columbian America, where the natives made tobacco "their most popular gift to the rest of humanity," and continues through all the cantankerous smoking litigation of the 1990s. The story touches on just about every subject imaginable: tobacco in literature, the movies, and society. It would be wrong to call Gately an advocate of smoking, but he clearly takes pleasure, for example, in noting that Hitler's Nazis launched one of history's most vigorous anti-smoking initiatives. The book is full of delicious trivia: Many of Shakespeare's contemporaries smoked, but there's no evidence that the Bard himself did, and none of his plays make any mention of smoking; he "kept his writing a smoke-free zone." Nevertheless, reports Gately with a smirk, there is "archaeological evidence proving that smoking was going on around the Shakespeare household in Stratford-upon-Avon during his life." Smoking aficionados won't want to miss Tobacco, and it's a much healthier gift for them than a box of cigars. --John Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Here it is everything you ever wanted to know about tobacco, from Amerindian prehistory right up to the Clinton/Lewinsky cigar tryst. As Gately traces the role of tobacco in history's major military conflicts and cultural movements, he treats readers to a variety of brief lessons regarding Galenic vs. Chinese medicine, the colonization of the West Indies, the cultivation of tobacco by Australian aboriginals and African tribesmen, Scottish business expansion in the 17th century, the aesthetics of the "narghile" (water pipe) in Asia and much more. He examines both the familiar (peace pipes, chewing tobacco, cigars, cigarettes) and the arcane (techniques for snuffing, tobacco enemas) with appropriate thoroughness. Anyone interested in the origins of the smoking jacket, snuff horns, strike-anywhere matches, meerschaum and briar pipes, or curious about why most signers of the Declaration of Independence were tobacco farmers will not only enjoy this work, but come away with a larger understanding of why tobacco has been so important in human history. While Gately is explicit about the medical risks of tobacco, this global approach stressing the ubiquity of its use suggests it will remain part of our culture for generations to come. With irreverent wit and uncommon grace, Gately shares his enthusiasms with any reader brave enough to buy a book with the demon weed on its cover. A bonus appendix gives readers simple instructions on the cultivation of tobacco at home. Illus. (Jan.)Forecast: Handselling recommended especially to cultural history buffs (and those who reek of you-know-what) since this is a book that might otherwise not get the recognition it deserves.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Overall this is a very enjoyable and interesting book, well worth reading.
EMBLA
I recomend you this book if you are interested in tobacco, and if you enjoy reading history books.
Amazon Customer
All in all, this is an excellent history of the modern world's complex relationship with tobacco.
Peter Ramming

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Tobacco is "certainly the most equivocal substance in daily human use," according to Iain Gately. His author photo shows him unequivocally smoking his cigar, and so you might expect that he would go easy on the weed in his book _Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization_ (Grove Press). For those who think that cigarettes are an unalloyed curse, some of his book will be difficult reading. No history of tobacco can ignore the many social and health costs connected to the drug, and Gately's does not. But American Indians were using it for centuries, and in the five centuries since the conquest of the Americas, tobacco has insinuated itself into every diverse culture; there must be a reason that the killer drug is regarded by millions as a pleasure and a comfort. In fact, there are lots of reasons which the plant has exploited, and so it has a rich and complex history. Gately has researched widely and told the history well.
Tobacco has been part of human culture for about 18,000 years. It was cultivated in the Andes region about six thousand years ago, and only eventually smoked. "That lungs had a dual function - could be used for stimulation in addition to respiration - is one of the American continent's most significant contributions to civilization." The gift of dried tobacco leaves to Columbus in the Bahamas got thrown overboard; no one knew why the natives were getting rid of their tobacco leaves this way. The British took to snuff, in imitation of the fashionable French, but also smoked with pipes like the ones North American Indians used.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
(I originally wrote this for the UK version of this book on Amazon's UK website).
Put simply, this is a great read. Years of expensive education taught me less about history than Gately has succeeded in doing in 300 fluent pages. But don't think that this is the kind of book that drags its heels as so many non-fiction books can. It's not so much a roller-coaster ride but rather a non-stop tobaggan run as Gately takes you from tobacco's pre-historical roots to its present position as the world's most heavily consumed addictive commodity. Forget the innocent presumption you had that tobacco has done little for history other than hang around in famous mouths (such as Churchill's, Macarthur's, Raleigh's etc.). If it hadn't been for tobacco's influence then half the historical events of the past five hundred years would have turned out differently or might not even have happened at all.
Gately's also very funny, with a tremendous eye for the amusing or the absurd, and he doesn't hesitate to have a dig at anyone who thinks, talks or looks like a fathead. He also comes up with some memorable descriptions which simply beg to be repeated to friends (e.g. the popularity among various races over the centuries of having nicotine enemas, the idea of which makes my mind boggle). My favourite story is his account of the Hottentot males' coming-of-age and how as a race they declined into 'mono-testicular oblivion'. Read the book to find out why they ended up a ball short.
I don't smoke but halfway through this book I rather wished I did as it seems that non-smokers have been missing out on everything for the last five hundred years.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Bernard Chapin on May 20, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really do not understand the objections that other reviewers had to this book. Gately put together a lively, enchanting narrative concerning the history of tobacco. He covers a great many things and does not fail to include the words of those who once sung its praises. That's what should be done whenever one wishes to tell a "complete" story about anything. He does not self-censor his prose which is exactly what those of us most interested in the truth deeply desire. This book isn't titled "Quit Smoking," it's a cultural history of tobacco. Anyway, Gately presents statistics and analysis elucidating the dangers inherent to using the infamous weed. He outlines the positions of the state and depicts lung cancer as the private hell it clearly is. Smoking is a personal choice and there's no reason to ban it as the prohibition of substances has not met with much success over the years. I'm sure the author would agree with my conclusion but that does not mean he is depicting tobacco in a favorable light. This book was a serious page-turner and I enjoyed it very much. I recommend it without reservation.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 22, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Tobacco is an entertaining, nonscholarly look at the role tobacco has played in shaping our civilization over the last five hundred years or so. Gately provides plenty of fascinating information about the importance of tobacco to the Native Americans, Africans, and Europeans in Europe and in North America and does so with a witty, light touch and an ear for a good story, such as how the Hottentots became monotesticular.
The first sections of the book deal with tobacco's spread from the Americas to the rest of the world and its impact on different societies. Towards the end Gately primarily concentrates on tobacco's history in the US and Britain. Gately is British and apparently doesn't have too firm a grasp on American history, because he makes some errors and oversimplifications from time to time that will jump out at US readers, but that's only a minor distraction. While I could have wished for more discussion of the reasons for the increasing number of smokers in Asia and the Third World, I did enjoy Gately's comparisons of the anti-smoking campaigns in Britain and the US during the 1960s and the 1970s. All in all an interesting look at a plant which shaped our society for both good and ill.
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