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Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent Hardcover – March 17, 2009
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From The New Yorker
This enjoyably meandering history looks at the potato as a plant of paradox. It has been revered as an aphrodisiac and feared as a cause of leprosy. Populations rise dramatically wherever it is introduced, but reliance on it “ensnares more people in poverty than it lifts out.” Reader traces the evolution of the potato from poisonous Andean weed to global staple, offering adept disquisitions on whatever captures his attention: the mysterious origins of agriculture, the economic history of Peru, the domestic arrangements of the Irish. There are glimpses of the Reign of Terror, when the ornamental gardens of the Tuileries Palace were planted with potatoes, and the Great Potato Boom of 1903 and 1904, when an investment bubble grew as a result of false claims made for a potato strain known as Eldorado. This is a story of invisible systems and unintended consequences, concerned with how the New World transformed the Old.
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Reader takes us to colonial South America where we see early growers, agronomists, and scoundrels in action. Then potatoes come to Europe. Eventually they take over since they provide four times the calories per acre and are less likely to be disturbed by the marauding armies so prevalent in war-torn 18th century Europe. The impact of potatoes on social history is clear as the cheap calories swell the Irish population. Potatoes eventually go bad briefly in the 19th century leading to the Irish migration and the modernization of the English economy. And now today we have research under way on GM potatoes driven by claims of reducing potentially carcinogenic component levels.
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He likes it a lot.
Extremely well written.Read more