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A History of Food 2nd Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1405181198
ISBN-10: 1405181192
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"This book should be in all libraries where history and food are a concern. It gives information that is not available anywhere else. It is well written and fascinating reading." (American Reference Books Annual, 2010)

"A History of Food is a concise yet massively entertaining read that looks at the earliest hunter-gatherer societies and moves on to bring readers right up to the modern day. … It goes quite well with a cup of tea and a biscuit, and dipping in anywhere will uncover something delicious." (Heritage Key, December 2009)

"The reader will be amazed and fascinated by the dizzying array of details about various foods in this 700-page tome." (Choice Reviews, May 2009)

"Classic text … .[Brought] up to date by including 'the latest scientific and technological discoveries' regarding the food we eat." (Contemporary Review, 2009)

"This densely informed history ranges from the first bread loaves to the low-down on cauliflowers. Fab for food geeks, it's one to dip into rather than devour in one go." (Metro, December 2008)

"The second edition of this dense tome is perfect for the historian on your list." (San Francisco Chronicle, December 2008)

"This densely informed history ranges from the first bread loaves to the lowdown on cauliflowers. Fab for food geeks, it's one to dip into rather than devour in one go." (Metro Food Books of the Year, December 2008)

"A fascinating study that starts with the era when we are all still living in trees. Scrupulously thorough and pleasingly idiosyncratic, it promises the reader many a happy hour blissfully contemplating our ancient relationship with our stomachs. And that’s as much as you can ask from any food book." (Independent, November 2008)

"Forceful and challenging … A powerful, compelling and readable case against biblical literalism and fundamentalism." (Times Higher Education, November 2008)

"Encyclopaedic in scope, the result is never dull … You will find it, I guarantee, unfailingly witty and comprehensively rewarding." (The Glasgow Herald, November 2008)

"Scrupulously thorough and pleasingly idiosyncratic, it promises the reader many a happy hour blissfully contemplating our ancient relationship with our stomachs. And that's as much as you can ask from any food book." (The Independent, November 2008)

"A fascinating, enormously impressive work which will delight not just the foodie but anyone in social history." (Tribune, November 2008)

"Toussaint Samat presents not just the historical background but the cultural, religious and social impact of food. Extensively researched with quotations from a wide array of historical sources … .Some areas receive more intense scrutiny—wine for example … .A useful source for students or researchers as a strong first reference point and for anyone with a dedicated interest in food history. Recommended for larger public and academic libraries." (Library Journal, November 2008)

"First published in France in 1987, the second edition of this dense tome is perfect for the historian on your list. It explores the 10,000-year-old relationship between humans and food, including facts about foie gras, the history of olive oil and the symbolism of poultry." (San Francisco Chronicle, November 2008)

"A fascinating study that starts with the era when we were still living in trees (yes, really). Scrupulously thorough and pleasingly idiosyncratic, it promises the reader many a happy hour blissfully contemplating our ancient relationship with our stomachs. And that's as much as you can ask from any food book." (The Independent on Sunday, November 2008)

"A fascinating, enormously impressive work which will delight not just the foodie but anyone interested in social history." (Tribune, November 2008)

"This excellent guide is an exploration of man's relationship with food from the discovery of fire onwards." (The Independent, October 2008)

"This book should be republished and re-titled THE History of Food. It's probably the most remarkable book on the subject I have ever had the pleasure of reading." (Mostly Food Journal, October 2008)

Praise for the First Edition:

"Indispensable, and an endlessly fascinating book. The view is staggering. Not a book to digest at one or several sittings. Savor it instead, one small slice at a time, accompanied by a very fine wine." (New York Times)

"This book is not only impressive for the knowledge it provides, it is unique in its integration of historical anecdotes and factual data. It is a marvellous reference to a great many topics." (Raymond Blanc, Restaurateur Writer)

"Quirky, encyclopaedic, and hugely entertaining. A delight." (Sunday Telegraph)

"It's the best book when you are looking for very clear but interesting stories. Everything is cross-referenced to an extraordinary degree, which is great because the information given is so complex and interweaving." (The Independent)

"A History of Food is a monumental work, a prodigious feat of careful scholarship, patient research and attention to detail. Full of astonishing but insufficiently known facts." (Times Higher Education Supplement)

Review

"For those of us virtually weaned on this monumental landmark when it was first published, the expanded, updated edition of A HISTORY OF FOOD couldn't be a more welcomed and exciting surprise. While the hefty volume is an indispensable source of valuable facts and information for anyone interested in the worldwide development of numerous foods and the intriguing evolution of man's dietary habits over the centuries, the book also happens to be, quite simply, a wonderful and inspiring read--to be dipped into like a bowl of fresh wild strawberries."
James Villas, former food and wine editor of Town & Country magazine, and author of The Glory of Southern Cooking and Between Bites: Memoirs of a Hungry Hedonist

“This amazing and most entertaining book presents anything you might want to know about the cultural history of food forever and everywhere. It’s a great place to find the symbolic meaning of food myths, legends, and revels, not to mention the dietetics of cherries and other nutritious foods. It should be a welcome addition to the library of every food studies scholar.”
Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University and author of What to Eat
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 776 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 2nd edition (November 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1405181192
  • ISBN-13: 978-1405181198
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 1.6 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #501,360 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book was originally written in French in 1987, with a second edition in 2009. Translation is by Anthea Bell.
A History of Food is not a quick and easy read. It is 705 pages, with another 50 pages of notes and index. But it is more than a history. It's an encyclopedia of food. Each topic includes science and biology, etymology, natural history, mythology and legend, economics, and often food purchasing and preparation tips. There is also more than a smattering of homeopathic medicine. I will keep it on my bookshelf as a treasured reference.
One of my favorite paragraphs is on page 39, in the chapter on "The History of Gathering". It is indicative of the dense information throughout the book.
The Roman legions gathered peas from the sands around the camps in Numidia and Palestine to supplement the rations they received, consisting of flour, oil, and salt meat, when not actually on service in the field. Our word pea is from Latin pisum, itself derived from Greek pison. The Old English term pise, becoming pease a little later, was misunderstood as a plural, and so the singular pea was coined.
In one paragraph we learned:
* The etymology of the word "pea"
* That they originated in Numidia and Palestine
* That they grew in sand
* That Roman legions received flour, oil, and salt meat as a rations.
The book is clearly Franco-centric, which at times can be irritating but understandable... it is a French book. So the book teaches that pizza is a French invention, that Salami is of Italian origin and "is seldom of very good quality". Etymological discussions often go from Greek or Latin to French, while others are clearly English. It makes one appreciate the art of the translator.
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Format: Hardcover
This fat volume about food and cooking, packed with anecdotes and trivia and stories, is amusing but completely unreliable.

As a source of information about the history of food, it is useless. Many of the assertions of fact here are questionable, and none of them are footnoted so you can check them out. The author seems to have taken snippets from here and there (mostly, apparently, from French sources), sorted them thematically, and uncritically assembled them into a continuous text. No doubt a large proportion of the assertions here are true, but there is no way of telling the difference between the true ones and the others!

What's more, the translation is poor. Not only are some gallicisms rendered word-for-word (and so only intelligible if you translate them back into French), but there are no translator's notes for topical references.

I cannot recommend this book for anyone seriously interested in the history of food.

(This is a copy of my review of another edition of this book.)
4 Comments 38 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
I bought this book a couple of days ago with 40% coupon at my local dummied-down Borders. I noticed right away that there were some factual mistakes starting with the first section on honey. Bees DO have good color vision! But anyway, I actually like the book. I bought it as "just to have something around to dip into". It's definitely not a research source for your Ph.D.

But a the great bulk of the information and discussion is very interesting, as is the style, if you just are going to keep it in the kitchen as a diversion by the fire. And it is physical treat as an artifact. Unlike so many of today's books it is a handsome production. The plates, of which there are many, are very, very good. I found them of antquarian culinary interest in themselves. The binding is sewn and the pages are an excellent quality art paper. It's 800+ pages of fun to read stuff and if you can get the hard cover for twenty bucks, I think you'll get twenty bucks worth of pleasure from it. A similarly produced book can cost over $100 today!
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Format: Hardcover
A lavish, well-produced book rife with unsupported assertions, happy speculation, and joyously rendered errors. If the lapses were only occasional, one might blame the translation, which is weirdly odd at times, but the volume is built upon piles and piles of little statements with nothing to suggest a foundation in scholarship. Indeed, one can understand the lack of references: there are none to be found! Such a shame. Fortunately, this nice edition has wide margins in which to register outraged comments.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is not a cookbook, though there is a lot of cooking included, from the time of the first fires, boiling water and cooking in the stomach of animals, up to the modern utensils and devices of today. It is not an academic dissertation, although the research is evident, extensive, and supported with citations dating back to the earliest literature and continuing up to the most recent studies. For those who are interested in where this or that technique originated, who first ate this or that recipe, where this or that tradition came from, this is your volume. It is too much to sit and read at a sitting, or even at a few sittings. It is best sampled by following your interests one subject at a time, over a long period of time. Fascinating and thoroughly interesting.
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