- Series: Harvard Historical Studies (Book 135)
- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press; New edition edition (November 30, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674006852
- ISBN-13: 978-0674006850
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #611,709 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture (Harvard Historical Studies) Paperback – November 30, 2001
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Almost every page of this decidedly scholarly though highly readable book gave me something to think about: the origins of restaurant reviewing in the early years of the 19th century, the way in which other Europeans came to identify the restaurant with the essence of French-ness itself, or the fact that in French one word--carte--does double duty for both menu and map. (Michael Gora Boston Sunday Globe)
Spang writes entertainingly, with a keen sense of humor and with no great reverence for her subject. It is a refreshing contrast to much of the overwritten adulation of restaurants that passes for criticism today. (Roger Harris Newark Star-Ledger)
Spang has written an ambitious, thought-changing book. Until now, most restaurant history was pop history, filled with canned "Eureka!" moments and arch legend-making...Spang's book is an example of the new "niche" history, and, like the best of such books, it is rich in weird data, unsung heroes, and bizarre true stories about the making of familiar things. (Adam Gopnik New Yorker)
No more fables about ancien régime chefs, whose aristo patrons had been guillotined or exiled in the French Revolution...an end to those anecdotes about their invention of dishes broiled on a breastplate on some Napoleonic battlefield. Because Spang reveals the restaurant's first true author: Mathurin Roze de Chantoiseau, "friend of all the world," an entrepreneur who edited an annual business directory in which he recommended himself as the "king's restauranteur" and founder of the first "house of health." (Vera Rule The Guardian)
[A] pleasingly spiced history of the restaurant...How has [the] restaurant ritual come to be? And why does it have this form? Such questions are now familiar in works of cultural and social history...[but] Spang adds to the genre without falling prey to its jargon. (Edward Rothstein New York Times)
This prize-winning academic historical study is a lively, engrossing, authoritative account of how the restaurant as we know it developed...Rebecca Spang is consistently perceptive about the semiotics of her theme, and as generous in her helpings of historical detail as any glutton could wish. (The Times)
Rebecca Spang explodes a culinary myth that has lasted nearly two hundred years. (Margaret Visser London Review of Books 2000-11-30)
This is a book that works on a number of different levels. There is meat and drink here for those interested in the metaphysical and metaphorical aspects of eating; a wealth of erudition on some relatively little studied aspects of Enlightenment culture and the French Revolution; and those scholars of the period who follow convention in regarding the rise of the French restaurant as epiphenomenon of the French Revolution, a well presented challenge to their account. (Kate Soper Radical Philosophy)
The title of Rebecca L. Spang's scholarly yet highly accessible social history, The Invention of the Restaurant causes a small jolt of surprise. For people who eat out so often that boiling a pot of spaghetti at home is a special occasion, a world without restaurants is hard to imagine. We realize, at some level, that they have not always been here, but few of us could say who invented them, or when...Much of this information is ignored in the standard food histories, and Spang's excavation of it makes for interesting reading, particularly because the French Revolution and its aftermath would change restaurants almost beyond recognition, into something very like the places where we go out to eat today. (Pete Wells Salon.com)
Readers hungry for mouth-watering accounts of sumptuous meals or paeans to the glories of French cuisine will not find them here. Spang's focus is on the restaurant as an institution, and her history pretty much ends in the mid-19th century. Spang is far more interested in viewing restaurants in a wider social, political and historical context. Her book is well...argued, dryly witty and full of fascinating details. (Merle Rubin Los Angeles Times)
About the Author
Rebecca L. Spang is Professor of History at Indiana University.
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The credentials of the author, who lectures about modern European history at University College, London, and the publisher, Harvard University Press, indicated that the information was likely to be accurate and useful. The samples that I read made it fairly clear that Ms. Spang could write an entertaining and informative account.
The material is comprehensive and useful. There is a lot of information there, and concepts are illustrated by contemporary accounts (such as the trial of some enterprising butchers who represented as rabbits what turned out to be cats. The case caused an uproar).
For my own purposes, I learned that a café was a place that sold primarily beverages while a restaurant sold a wider array of edibles. You could eat in a common room at a restaurant, or hire a private room (and some of those private rooms were hired for somewhat risque' purposes).
The book is illustrated with contemporary engravings and pictures, properly identified. I did not, myself, find much in the way of typos or poor layout.
The only complaint that I might have about this book is that the print is rather smaller than I generally like, the better to get a lot of information into a not-so-large package. I did not find it annoying enough to downgrade the book.
This is an excellent sourcebook and an often enjoying read, if you enjoy research. It is certainly not dry. I would recommend this to anyone interested in the subject, or in the greater subject of the evolution of European, and specifically Parisian, society in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries.
...I must see if it is available in hardcover.
Some questions, though, remain unaswered by this research. The first one is the amount of different food-selling houses there has been and their names and functions. Nowadays, to my recollection there are still several, apart from restaurants themselves. In order to help readers, the author should have had listed all of them, such as brasserie, charcuterie, patisserie, boulangerie, bar, bistrot etc, along with their formal menus, that were commanded by the State. It lacks a little information on the economic value of the restaurant -graphs containing meal prices through time should have helped us get a glimpse of its importance within the social public space of XIXTH Century France. It makes us wonder why the author states that the restaurant lost its political value as a public space at the end of the 1800's, was it a comparison with its fashionable wave during the French Revolution as she makes us believe? She surely forgot the role of the famous Maxim's Restaurant on the future of European rulers and nobleman at the turn of the XXth Century.
Although a good research, there are still more research left to do about this issue, and surely people like me who would love to read them through, trying to find thorough answers about the past.
Although it is a surely good research, and easy to read
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