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Showing 1-10 of 17 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 39 reviews
on March 19, 2016
I am a scientist. The layman should read this book as I believe all will benefit from more than the prevailing viewpoint that our agricultural history was sound. Richard Manning not only suggests, he observes, compares, supposes, shows to finally conclude as have I and at least locally a lot of my peers, that our agricultural beginnings, underpinnings and practices may be another factor in what has brought us to this unsustainable world. Permaculture, viticulture and aquaculture are new forms of cultivation with more of a view to conservation than for surplus.
Agriculture marks the end of our hunter gatherer days and the beginnings of a most misnamed term "civilization". Staying put caused surplus, which brought about the need for armies to protect that surplus…etc
Interestingly it took over 2000 years for us to notice that wherever "civilization" flourished with certain farming practices, soon after came drought, plagues etc, causing the land to be arid, or die in other ways. The six inches of soil we rely on for all things carries an amazing depth and breath of organisms who are the most valuable and helpful to all species, just Class Arthropoda alone, is over 100 million to one of us yet their whole existence we cannot do without for a day as they are detritivores... I won't go on read the book.
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on January 31, 2009
Against the Grain discusses the connections between agriculture and poverty in our species.

"The assumption is that nomads and hunter-gatherers, who usually traded with civilized folk, knew a good thing when they saw it and so simply adopted the farming technology. In other words, a bunch of guys who spent their time running around the woods, hunting and fishing and trading meat for sex, one day saw someone hoeing weeds and said to themselves, 'What a fine idea! Let's go do that instead.' Is it possible that the technology did not spread entirely by adoption, that hunter-gatherers were wiped out or displaced by an advancing agricultural imperialism? The record suggests that although some adoption did occur, by and large farming spread by genocide." p45

His description of the modern world is not any sunnier.

Against the Grain is much easier to read than Manning's Grassland which was thick with Pirsig-esque tangents. (I am very impressed with both works.)
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on November 4, 2012
Like most books of a commentary nature, Richard Manning spends most of these pages describing how agriculture changed the world, and not with the all too common culture hype. Did we live longer, enjoy life more and have free time as member of a hunting and gathering community? It seems so. Manning's thesis is that agriculture is and historically has been the recipe for most of the evils we now look elsewhere for the demons. The dinosaurs of the Industrial Age are everywhere, but firmly in control of agriculture, through massive government subsides. Processed "foods" made from corn, wheat, rice and sugar made from corn compose most of our American diets and make us FAT!

There is however a deeper metaphysic in the book that should put it on everyone's reading list, and that is what really makes us human. "Against the Grain," gives us an insight into that history, not available elsewhere.
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on November 23, 2011
I read a lot in search of understanding of what is going on in the society and for prediction of where we all are heading to. There is too much suffering, hunger, abuse and slavery (including the contemporary 9 to 5 office slavery) in the world and so little joy. I feel that something is going wrong, something is missing. After this book, I see nothing is missing. On the contrary, there is something in excess: security in the form of grains.

I was surprised to see how the entire development of civilization took its peculiar course because of having grains as the main foodstuff. Like any kind of security, it creates attachment and halts the development of the most human qualities: compassion, communion, joy, creativity, and equality. The current disastrous growth of population is the product of this security. While the author does not speak anything about the history of wars, it looks like large-scale wars are also the result of agriculture. When I think of Elliott waves and other waves in economic development, I see they can be related to the expansion of land used for crops and advances in genetics, or lack of them and growth of population and fear. Even the balance between feminine and masculine was destroyed by growing crops and making women to give too many births.

However, today there is no land untouched by crops; nothing is left for people to maintain the old agricultural and patriarchal system and its values. This world was created by wheat and rice and corn, and... with too many people... lack of water and land... it can be destroyed by them. I wish that many people adopt the lifestyle of the author who (so poetically he describes it) hunts for his meat and eats vegetables but not grains.

Moreover, grains are clearly not healthy (e.g. see the book Wheat Belly). However, people in general are not that conscientious and fear change, and will be forced to change by "nature". This process will possibly be deep and painful. The curious thing I now know from this book is that pre-agriculture people who didn't grow grains had more leisure time and were more artistic, and supportive of each other. I live in a country with nomadic heritage where crops were introduced only recently, and I see and feel the differences between cultures from the inside.
I am really, really grateful to Richard Manning for his profound ideas and research.
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on April 4, 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed Manning's look at how agriculture (not food production) has manipulated civilization to where it is today. He makes a lot of good interrelated points and sews the seeds for more investigation and how his points can be applied to our present food production system. It speaks to me much like the arguments pro and con of the root cause for climate change or global warming. It's not so much if it's human caused, the facts remain, whether it be climate or food, we are still faced with huge problems related to both these issues! Are humans up to the task of addressing the problems face on or will we debate the causes forever while lemming-like go over the cliff?!
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Agriculture is one of humankind's most troublesome experiments, and it is now hopelessly in debt. It has borrowed soil, water, and energy that it can never repay, and never intended to repay -- burning up tomorrow to feed today. We know it, we keep doing it, and we have dark hallucinations about feeding billions more. Agriculture has become civilization's tar baby.

Richard Manning is among my favorite writers. He slings snappy lines like: "There is no such thing as sustainable agriculture. It does not exist." Or, "The domestication of wheat was humankind's greatest mistake." And he's the opposite of a raving nutjob. In his book, Against the Grain, he hoses off the thick crust of mythical balderdash and twaddle, and presents us with a clear-eyed history of agriculture, warts and all (especially the warts). Everyone everywhere should read it, and more than once.

Roughly 10,000 years ago, agriculture came into existence in several different locations, independently. These were lands having an abundant supply of wild foods. The residents had no need to roam for their chow, so they settled down and built permanent homes and villages. Over time, with the growing number of mouths, the food supply became strained, and this inspired a habit of seed planting. As usual, nobody foresaw the unintended consequences of a brilliant new trick, and an innocent mistake ended up going viral and ravaging the entire planet. Whoops!

Grains are potent foods, because they are rich in calories, and they can be stored for extended periods of time. Herds of domesticated animals and granaries packed with hoarded seeds came to be perceived as private property, which led to the concept of wealth, and its dark shadow, poverty. Wealth had a habit of snowballing, leading to elites having access to far more resources than the hordes of lowly grunts.

Countless legions of peasants and slaves spent their lives building colossal pyramids, temples, castles, cathedrals, and other monuments to the rich and powerful. "What we are today -- civilized, city-bound, overpopulated, literate, organized, wealthy, poor, diseased, conquered, and conquerors -- is all rooted in the domestication of plants and animals. The advent of farming re-formed humanity."

Like mold on an orange, agriculture had a tendency to spread all over. It tended not to "diffuse" from culture to culture, like cell phone technology. More often it spread by "displacement" -- swiping the lands of the indigenous people. Evidence suggests that Indo-European farming tribes spread across Europe in a 300-year blitzkrieg, eliminating the salmon-eating wild folks.

Paleontologists study old artifacts. Examining hunter-gatherer skeletons is brutally boring, because these people tended to be remarkably healthy. The bones of farming people are far more interesting. Grain eaters commonly suffered from tooth decay, bone deformities, malnutrition, osteomyelitis, periostitis, intestinal parasites, malaria, yaws, syphilis, leprosy, tuberculosis, anemia, rickets in children, osteomalacia in adults, retarded childhood growth, and short stature among adults.

Hunter-gatherers consumed a wide variety of foods, consequently they were well nourished. In farming villages, poverty was common, and the common diet majored in grain, the cheapest source of calories. The poor in England often lived on bread and water, period. They almost never tasted meat, and milk and cheese were rare luxuries. The Irish poor lived on oat porridge. Later, the poor of England and Ireland switched to potatoes, an even cheaper food.

In twentieth century America, government farm policies drove most small subsistence farms into extinction. Big farmers, with big farms and big machines, got big subsidy checks for growing commodity crops, like corn. We now produce vast quantities of extremely cheap grain. Some of the surplus is exported to other nations, some is made into livestock feed, some is converted into processed foods. The inspiration for writing his book came suddenly, when Manning returned from a trip abroad, and was astonished to observe vast herds of obese Americans. Oh my God! Why?

Through the wonders of food science technology, we are now able to extract the complex carbs in corn, and convert them into simple carbs -- sugar. Sugar is the calorie from hell, because it is rapidly metabolized by the body, like spraying gasoline on a fire. Mother Nature includes generous amounts of fiber in fruits and berries, and this slows the rate at which sugar is released to the body. But there is zero fiber in a cheap 40 ounce soda fountain soft drink, and an immense dose of corn sugar. It seems like most processed foods now contain added sugar.

Michael Pollan's fabulous books encourage readers to have serious doubts about industrial agriculture and processed foods. Manning probes deeper. He leaves us perceiving the entire history of agriculture in a new and vividly unflattering manner. It's an extremely important issue, and one that's long overdue for thorough critical analysis.

At this point in the game, we can't painlessly abandon agriculture, and return to sustainability, so we've placed most of our bets on impossible techno miracles (God forbid!). This century is going to provide many powerful lessons on the foolishness of living like stylish Madoffs on stolen resources. As the end of cheap energy deflates the global economy, the shrinking herd will eventually reach a point where we actually can abandon agriculture painlessly. It would be very satisfying to finally break out of our ancient habit of repeating the same old mistakes over and over. Will we kick the habit and joyfully celebrate the extinction of tilling? Hey, this is what big brains are for -- learning.

Not surprisingly, at the end of this book, Manning does not provide a cheap, quick, simple solution. He does not foresee a smooth, managed transition to a sustainable future -- it's going to be a mess. He recommends shifting toward foods from perennial plants, like fruits, nuts, and berries -- and replacing grain-fed meat with grass-fed. And, of course, nothing close to seven billion people can fit into a happy sustainable future. The healing process will be a vast undertaking: "Not back to the garden, back to the wild."

Richard Adrian Reese
Author of What Is Sustainable
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on February 5, 2010
A great book. It takes the reader to places and perspectives related to food and agriculture that are relevant and personal. Placed in a historical context, Manning exposes grains in ways rarely brought
to light. He addresses whether grains chose us or we chose them, the significance of agriculture to society and civilization, the dietary aspects of eating grains, and political/economic impacts on global grain use. He shares personal lifestyle information - but not too much - so that the reader feels a deeper connection to the world through his or her grain use..
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on April 11, 2015
It is difficult to continue to sort out the aspects of production and political. No question we can make the products and no question that the political mavens can influence the outcomes to be completely different form what you would imagine.
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on May 12, 2012
Manning's insights are a corroboration of my own observations in the agricultural field. I have a degree in agriculture, and own a farm. I began several years ago to switch my land from row crops to pasture, to raise Highland cattle. I too now am "Against the Grain."
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on March 15, 2014
All of Manning's writings are both educational and full of theory. His viewpoints about agriculture have changed my outlook on many things. A great read from an author who isn't afraid to run with his theories.
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