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Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent Paperback – March 29, 2011
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From The New Yorker
Top Customer Reviews
The author manages to start the book with Mars, asserting that astronauts will take potatoes with them when they go. He then moves to the Andes, from whence potatoes originate. Ancestral potatoes were toxic, and people in the Andes bred non-toxic varieties. The author discusses this as well as he can, but there is little direct evidence of how it was done. He then launches into a discussion of Andean civilizations and then the fall of the Inca to the Spanish. Acceptably done, but if you want a great account (of this and more) look at "1491" by Charles C. Mann.
The potato then makes its way to Europe, and slowly gains acceptance. (Including tales of fraud and the like.) Then comes Ireland, population explosion, and blight, death, and emigration. The discussion of the blight, how it happened, and what the consequences were is good. There is also much discussion of the politics of the time, and the fight over the Corn Laws ("corn" meaning grain, in the British use), which applied tariffs to keep out cheap foreign grain to protect British farmers. It also helped the Irish starve when the potato crop failed, and thus the blight contributed to ending a long political fight.
[Side note: I ordered the UK edition of this book based on a review in The Economist. The Economist was founded in opposition to the Corn Laws ...]
The story then moves back to the potato in Europe, especially in England.Read more ›
It is a well written, often interesting, set of disconnected anecdotes and stories about all things potato. It begins with the origins in the Andes, spends a good bit of time on the Irish, and ends with pommes frites in China. There is a little bit on botany, a little bit of plant pathology, quite a lot on nasty Spaniards and Brits, and lots more. Was I bored? No. Did I have a sense that I had wasted my time. YES. Am I disappointed with Yale Press? You bet!
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Pages would go on where I could hardly keep my eyes open. Then Id hit a sentence that was interesting, only to be shortlived, and a paragraph later I would be propping my head on... Read morePublished 25 days ago by DMM
This is wonderful. It is way more intense than I thought it would be for a book about potatos. It has serious history and funny stuff as well. I am a very satisfied customer :)Published 6 months ago by Jessica
A lot more interesting that I thought it would be, well worth reading. There's a lot of good historical information, well researched, and it held my interest throughout. Read morePublished 8 months ago by T' Wretched Reviewer With Malice Aforethought
Interesting history, I always heard the potato was important in the history of Europeans and this book provides much of the detailPublished 10 months ago by Manuel A Espinosa
Encompasses the history of the potato through to its use today and hope for it in the future.
Extremely well written. Read more
What a great book, love to read the history of foods, learned a lot. New respect for the spud!Published 15 months ago by Darylann Campbell
I bought this as part of a research project for a history class. When I presented my paper to the class, I received an ovation. Read morePublished 19 months ago by S.M. O'Brien
When I read this book I felt a bit of anguish while facing the fact that I am human. This book sought my problems and solved them. Read morePublished 21 months ago by Taj Mitchell