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The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food Hardcover – March 29, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Every now and again a book comes along that transforms our understanding of a subject that had previously seemed so well worn and familiar.  That is the measure of Lizzie Collingham's achievement in this outstanding global account of the role played by food (and its absence) during the Second World War.  It will now be impossible to think of the war in the old way.” — Richard Overy, LITERARY REVIEW (UK)

“Fascinating…After this book, no historian will be able to write a comprehensive history of the Second World War without putting the multifarious issues of food production and consumption centre stage.” — Andrew Roberts, FINANCIAL TIMES

“Lizzie Collingham's book possesses the notable virtue of originality...[She] has gathered many strands to pursue an important theme across a global canvas. She reminds us of the timeless truth that all human and political behaviour is relative.” — Max Hastings, THE SUNDAY MAIL (UK)

“Powerful and important” — Diane Purkiss, THE INDEPENDENT (UK)

“Ambitious, compelling, fascinating” — THE GUARDIAN (UK)

About the Author

Lizzie Collingham is the author of Imperial Bodies: The Physical Experience of the Raj and Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors. Having taught history at Warwick University she became a Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge. She is now an independent scholar and writer. She has lived in Australia, France, and Germany and now lives near Cambridge with her husband and small daughter.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press; 1St Edition edition (March 29, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594203296
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594203299
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #714,917 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Paul Gelman on April 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book which examines WW2 through a new and original perspective, namely:the way the various countries have coped with the food crisis which was part of almost everyone of them, with the exception of the US. More than 20 million people died from starvation and malnutrition. The author describes in great detail the Hunger Plan as devised by Herbert Backe in Nazi Germany and whose purpose was to starve the East European countries to death, especially the Ukraine. The ultimate aim of Hitler was to move German families into the Ukraine to farm the land there. Backe had concluded that if the war was to be won, the only way to do it as to feed the entire Nazi army from Russia. This was to be achieved by exterminating "the useless" eaters, among them the Polish Jews. She then describes the impact of food shortages on the populations of Japan and the other Far Eastern countries as well as the British peoples and the way each government managed the crises. More than 60 per cent of the Japanese military deaths were caused by starvation or other diseases linked to malnutrition, while no Allies armies starved to death.The Japanese also exterminated a countless number of Chinese prisoners of war. Churchill said that the only thing he was worried about was the food issue and the U-boat threat which could have endangered the supply of food to Britain.
It is a very well-researched book,supported by new documents, war diaries and war letters. It exhausts this particular angle of this most horrible conflict of the twentieth century or human history. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Being a captive for three years in forced labor and concentration camps in Germany, I saw thousand of co- inmates dying of starvation. In camp Blechammer in Germany, at the working place, I came in contact with prisoners of other nationalities. There, I realized that every Jew was a victim but not every victim was a Jew. I saw many Russian POWs, as well as captives from other nations, dying of starvation, which is a slow and excruciating process. I suffered from constant hunger and witnessed starving co-prisoners begging the guards to shoot them. I couldn't understand why valuable workers, within a war economy desperately short of labor, were being starved.

I had no idea how many people had been victims of starvation during wartime and peacetime in so many different countries in the world as narrated in the TASTE OF WAR. Lizzie Collingham, the author makes the reader aware that food is often an all-consuming preoccupation for many people all over the globe. Ambitions to become agrarian empires drove Germany, as well as Italy and Japan, to wage war and to commit atrocities. Lack of food was a major factor in Germany's defeat in 1917. Hungry soldiers' will to fight dissipated while their horses were dying of hunger. In 1942, Hitler justified his decision to start WWII in order to capture living space, agrarian land to grow food and to achieve autarky. By invading Russia in 1941, Hitler's two evil plans, General Plan and Hunger Plan, called for the annihilation of millions upon millions of Russian, Ukrainians, Jews and others in order to secure ample food for a Grater Germany. In other words, to free up more food for Germans more people needed to be annihilated.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I concur with the author's premise that the role of food in war has been largely overlooked by historians. My own research focused on the U.S. Food Administration in World War I and thus I eagerly purchased this study, especially since it received many positive reviews. I offer a contrarian review to those that offer such praise. It is a very tough book to read and I doubt that many made it through each and every page. It contains a lot of interesting and important information, but falls short in several respects: 1) the author it tries to cover too much ground and in doing so is very shallow in many sections; 2) It is literally all over the map - in one section you will travel to a variety of locations impacted by the war and flit back and forth between years and events, including the pre and post-war periods. An overarching summary, including maps and charts, of the pre-war production and flow of food (wheat, sugar, and meat) would have helped immensely; 3) The final section of the book includes advocacy for some sort of world council that supersedes national governments to control the production and distribution of food to overcome what the author perceives as two major problems - 1) climate change (I assume caused by global warming) and 2) over consumption in the United States and some other western societies. I do not now why such advocacy is included in a book about food in World War II, but as stated earlier, this book is all over the map. To support this contemporary recommendation the author refers to World War I (not II) and claims that the world learned then that free markets don't work during wartime in regard to food production and distribution and therefore links that conclusion to our current situation (global warming/climate change).Read more ›
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