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The Physiology of Taste: Or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy Paperback – October 1, 2000

4.2 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

You can't properly call yourself a gourmand (or even a minor foodie) until you've digested Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin's delectable 1825 treatise, The Physiology of Taste: Or, Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy. Brilliantly and lovingly translated in 1949 by M.F.K. Fisher (herself the doyenne of 20th-century food writing), the book offers the Professor's meditations not just on matters of cooking and eating, but extends to sleep, dreams, exhaustion, and even death (which he defines as the "complete interruption of sensual relations"). Brillat-Savarin, whose genius is in the examination and discussion of food, cooking, and eating, proclaims that "the discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a star."

Chocoholics will be satisfied to know that "carefully prepared chocolate is as healthful a food as it is pleasant ... that it is above all helpful to people who must do a great deal of mental work...." He examines the erotic properties of the truffle ("the truffle is not a positive aphrodisiac; but it can, in certain situations, make women tenderer and men more agreeable"), the financial influence of the turkey (apparently quite a prize in 19th-century Paris), and the level of gourmandise among the various professions (bankers, doctors, writers, and men of faith are all predestined to love food). Just as engrossing as the text itself are M.F.K. Fisher's lively, personal glosses at the end of every chapter, which make up almost a quarter of the book. These two are soulmates separated by centuries, and Fisher's fondness for the Professor comes through on every page. As she notes at the end, "I have yet to be bored or offended, which is more than most women can say of any relationship, either ghostly or corporeal." --Rebecca A. Staffel --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

"Still the most civilized cookbook ever written."
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint (October 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582431035
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582431031
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,948,879 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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