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The Physiology of Taste: Or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy (Vintage Classics) Paperback – October 4, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“It takes someone like Brillat-Savarin to remind us that cooking need not be the fraught, perfectionist, slightly paranoid struggle that it has latterly become. His love of food is bound up with a taste for human error and indulgence, and that is why The Physiology of Taste is still the most civilized cookbook ever written.” —The New Yorker

"The Physiology of Taste is about the pleasures of the table—how to eat, when to eat, why to eat—but it is also about much, much more. Along the way, Brillat-Savarin philosophizes, gossips, and recalls past flirtations. . . . High spirited and irreverent, Fisher matches his philosophical meanderings. Her extensive translator's notes, which take up almost a quarter of the book, are funny and scholarly by turns." —San Francisco Chronicle

About the Author

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755–1826) was a lawyer and the mayor of Belley, France, before he fled the Revolution in 1793. After a brief exile in the United States,  he returned to Paris and was appointed a judge in the court of appeals. He spent the last twenty-five years of his life living peacefully in Paris and writing The Physiology of Taste.
 
Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher (1908–1992), author of Consider the Oyster, How to Cook a Wolf, and more than twenty other books about the art of eating well, is widely acknowledged as a pioneer of food writing as a literary genre.

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Classics
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (October 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307390373
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307390370
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #95,009 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I noticed that the exact same 2 reviews are listed for both MFK Fisher's translation and the Penguin Classics edition. Let me say that I own both, and MFK Fisher's is by FAR the better one. It expresses Savarin's personality so well in English. Even though I am not a fan of her writing in general she is a first-rate translator of French! She captures the humor and poetry and makes it much more the book so many have read and loved. I've tried but I just don't enjoy the colder, more academic Penguin version. I am grateful to MFK Fisher for bringing this document to new life.
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Format: Paperback
Funny, informative, charming: this is one of the best books I've ever read.
Brillat-Savarin was a French judge who barely escaped with his life during the Reign of Terror; to be able to write such a light-hearted, witty, fun book after such an ordeal is in itself a miracle. But The Physiology of Taste is more than a romp; it's a trip into the past. From a detailed inventory of the senses (including the 'generative sense' -- there's no mistaking the author's nationality!) to a description of a turkey hunt in New England while in exile, Brillat-Savarin's love of food, good company and beautiful women is a reminder to us that life can be good.
I highly recommend this book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Full disclosure: I admit I read this book based on juicy rumors from gastronomy sources that it was considered an "underground classic" and summarily treasured by modern (and well-placed) gourmet cooks. And to complete that thought, I'll spare you, dear review-reader, some suspense: this book disappointed me. I even found the notes (glibly called "translator's glosses") by the esteemed M.F.K. Fisher a bit dry. Maybe the late Ms. Fisher got caught in the same trap; her notes refer almost constantly to the author's fame and wit in *other* contexts but they're uneven in the current text.
Still, I stand behind the three stars. Brillat-Savarin is not a brilliant author, but his insights into at least a few well-chosen subjects shine across the nearly two centuries since these "meditations" were penned. Long before the Atkins craze gripped American nutrition, for example, one can find here (in Meditation #21: "On Obesity"): "... the principal cause of any fatty corpulence is always a diet overloaded with starchy and farinaceous elements ..." One wonders how our 20th century nutritional experts missed this--especially since the good author's book has been out nearly two hundred years and very popular across Europe for much of this time.
Other nuggets of wisdom are equally remarkable. His analysis of taste manages to turn the standard teeth-chew-the-food, stomach-takes-the-food scientific tract into a celebration of good flavors. A long meditation "on food in general" gives any reader new perspectives on coffee, chocolate, and especially truffles. But physiology is never far behind; the aforementioned tasting discussion includes a prophetic note about the contributions of smell.
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Format: Paperback
NOTE: This review refers to ISBN 1-58243-103-5. This is a reprint edition of the original Heritage Press publication, in 1949, of M.F.K. Fisher's translation of Brillat-Savarin. As issued, the book is simply titled "The Physiology of Taste, or, Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy."

Now, with those details out of the way, let me make bold to say that this is one of the world's great books!

When I first began reading it, I became annoyed: "Who is this Frenchman, who thinks he can write about, and tell me about, everything under the sun?" For the book contains many, many digressions. I have seen it referred to as a "cookbook," which is wildly wrong -- it is MEANT to be a book about food and the art of cooking food. And no less about the art of eating food.

But the many digressions are the key to this wonderful book.

A brief biography: born in 1755, trained as a lawyer, Brillat-Savarin became the mayor of his home town, Belley. But he fled France at the time of the Revolution, and went to America. After his brief exile, he returned to Paris and served as a judge in the court of appeals. He spent the last twenty-five years of his life living peacefully, and writing this book.

Did he know that he was creating a masterpiece? Interesting question!

As his intrepid translator, M.F.K. Fisher comments, this seems to be a book which will last more than a century or two. It may well live for thousands of years.

WHY?

Because of the personality and intelligence of the author! Just like Fisher, I wish that I had been one of his friends! And, when push comes to shove, one purpose of a library is to provide an army of friends, hopefully intelligent, gentle, serene, and perceptive.
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Format: Paperback
The standard edition of this work in the US, and a lively one. Jean-Anthelme de Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) is known for this book and for pithy maxims like "Adam and Eve sold themselves for an apple. What would they have done for a truffled fowl?" (That of course in the days when the truffles that most people heard of were real ones, not chocolate candies that look like them; and also when the real ones were much more plentiful and less expensive.) Memorable are the wonderful anecdotes of the kindly old priest and his "austere" meatless menu ("The Curé's Omelet," with "theoretical notes" afterwards) and of Brillat's scheme at a country inn to enhance a humble dish. This wide-ranging book established its author as an original and knowledgeable voice in French food writing, to be compared with Carême and Grimod de la Reynière.
Brillat-Savarin, among other roles, was the basis of Marcell Rouff's _The Passionate Epicure,_ a fictional book gently combining food and sex (naturally, as a friend of mine remarked, since it's French), which was widely read in English when the translation appeared in 1962. Marcella Hazan and (I believe) Julia Child cited it in their cookbooks. In his preface to the 1962 Rouff, Lawrence Durrell (himself a fashionable author at that time) explained that many in the Brillat-Savarin family "died at the dinner table, fork in hand" and that Brillat's sister Pierrette, two months before her hundredth birthday, spoke at table what are to food fanatics easily the most famous last words ever: "Vite! Apportez-moi le dessert -- je sens que je vais passer!"
Fisher's translation and notes are a lively part of this edition of Brillat-Savarin (happily reprinted recently). Some booksellers offer newer editions by different English translators; I don't know why.
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