An Edible History of Humanity
By Tom Standage
(Walker & Company, Hardcover, 9780802715883, 288pp.)
Publication Date: May 12, 2009
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The bestselling author of A History of the World in 6 Glasses brilliantly charts how foods have transformed human culture through the ages.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 S oviet 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.
Tom Standage is the business editor at the Economist and the author of A History of the World in 6 Glasses, The Victorian Internet, The Turk, and The Neptune File. He has written for Wired, the New York Times, and numerous magazines and newspapers. He lives in London, England. Visit his Web site at www.tomstandage.com.
“Earliest civilizations appeared on earth when farmers banded together and exploited their excess crops as a means of trade and currency. This allowed some people to abandon agriculture [leading to] organized communities and cities. Standage traces this ever-evolving story through Europe, Asia, and the Americas and casts human progress as an elaboration and refinement of this foundation…Standage also uncovers the aspects of food distribution that underlay such historic events as the Napoleonic Wars and the fall of the Soviet empire.”—Booklist
“[Standage] shows how one of humanity’s most vital needs (hunger) didn't simply reflect but served as the driving force behind transformative and key events in history. … Perhaps the most interesting section is the final one, which looks at the ways in which modern agricultural needs have acted as a spur for technological advancement, with Standage providing a summary of the challenges still faced by the green revolution.”—Library Journal
“This meaty little volume… ‘concentrates specifically on the intersections between food history and world history.’ But history isn’t Standage’s only concern. He takes the long view to illuminate and contextualize such contemporary issues as genetically modified foods, the complex relationship between food and poverty, the local food movement, the politicization of food and the environmental outcomes of modern methods of agriculture… Cogent, informative and insightful.”—Kirkus Reviews