While some of the books I review on my site are furnished by the publishers, authors, or publicists for the purpose of review all of my reviews are truthful, honest, and my sincere opinion.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Review: An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage

Let me thank Bloomsbury USA for sending me a review copy of this book.

About the Book
Throughout history, food has acted as a catalyst of social change, political organization, geopolitical competition, industrial development, military conflict, and economic expansion. An Edible History of Humanity is a pithy, entertaining account of how a series of changes—caused, enabled, or influenced by food—has helped to shape and transform societies around the world.

The first civilizations were built on barley and wheat in the Near East, millet and rice in Asia, corn and potatoes in the Americas. Why farming created a strictly ordered social hierarchy in contrast to the loose egalitarianism of hunter-gatherers is, as Tom Standage reveals, as interesting as the details of the complex cultures that emerged, eventually interconnected by commerce. Trade in exotic spices in particular spawned the age of exploration and the colonization of the New World.

Food's influence over the course of history has been just as prevalent in modern times. In the late eighteenth century, Britain's solution to food shortages was to industrialize and import food rather than grow it. Food helped to determine the outcome of wars: Napoleon's rise and fall was intimately connected with his ability to feed his vast armies. In the twentieth century, Communist leaders employed food as an ideological weapon, resulting in the death by starvation of millions in the Soviet Union and China. And today the foods we choose in the supermarket connect us to global debates about trade, development, the environment, and the adoption of new technologies.

Encompassing many fields, from genetics and archaeology to anthropology and economics and invoking food as a special form of technology. An Edible History of Humanity is a fully satisfying discourse on the sweep of human history.

My Review
At first I thought this would be a boring "history" book, one that just rehashes everything I learned in school. Much to my shock and enjoyment it was a pretty good book. This book goes back to the very first humans and shows how food has shaped our future. From being hunter-gathers to present day humans it's amazing, and obvious, how food allowed us to make those important changes. Standage even gives some ideas on how food may shape our future.

There was so much information that while not necessarily useful, was at least interesting. I never really thought about the role that food had played in our history, but after reading this book I thought to myself, "How could I not have recognized that important link?" I think food isn't at the forefront of history because it is something that we take for granted. Even when learning of times when food was rationed by different countries throughout history I never realized the role that food played in the political and cultural climates.

The writing style was also nice. It wasn't mundane to read, the information was presented with a very nice flow. It wasn't an exciting book, and it wasn't one that I became captivated by, but it was enjoyable. If nothing else the knowledge I gained was worth the read.

It was very interesting and I would definitely recommend it.

To learn more about An Edible History of Humanity visit Walker Books.

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