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The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the…

The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World (1998)

by Larry Zuckerman

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215754,204 (3.71)11

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Zuckerman manages to make potatoes (as well as land politics in Europe) an interesting, engaging topic. ( )
  ratastrophe | May 4, 2014 |
I really enjoyed this one. I found so much to think about in here. Just look at this list of themes up there - and this is supposed to be about potatoes! But it was amazing how much the 'humble spud' effected.

The potato was viewed with some suspicion early on. In England, this latest a surprisingly long time. In France and Ireland, people eventually loved it as an easy substitute for growing grain, because it took less labor and would grow in poorer soil, as well as being easier for poor working people to prepare. But in England, it was looked down on and considered only good enough for peasants and livestock. In the US, colonials loved it - any food is good food - and it was grown and eaten everywhere. The book also includes a good but brief chapter about the potato famine in Ireland, its causes and effects, the government response, and its effect on migration.

Much more interesting that you might expect. My main complaint is that the 'western world' of the title was misleading. What about the potato in Germany, Spain, and Italy? What about Russia? These countries were scarcely mentioned, which was unfortunate. Still, 4 stars. ( )
  cmbohn | May 21, 2010 |
This one's about how the potato affected the poor and working classes of Ireland, England, France, and the US, up to the start of World War I. Everything from scientific theories of the day to changes in marriage customs gets talked about. I liked it.

The problem with reading food histories is getting hungry. Like, the chapter on French peasants. They lived on soup and bread. While the book was talking about how horrible the bread was and how weak the soups were, I was plotting a trip to the grocery for a crusty French loaf and the makings of a stew. Mentions of Irish tenant farmers boiling potatoes to serve with butter and salt had my mouth watering. Isn't that terrible? I should have been thinking about the plight of the poor and the rotten conditions they lived in, but all I could focus on was food... ( )
1 vote SwitchKnitter | Jul 10, 2009 |
A fascinating social history of the potato's impact on Great Britain, France, Ireland and the United States. I had no idea this ordinary vegetable ignited so much controversy! This book taught me many things about the way of life and the opinions of people back then, and it had a substantial bibliography for those inclined to read more. ( )
  meggyweg | Mar 6, 2009 |
Sad, well-written. Did I mention it is sad? Unremittingly sad? I attended an author's reading of this one. It's sad. Sad, sad, sad. ( )
  mcglothlen | Apr 25, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Larry Zuckermanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Breuer, CharlotteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Möllemann, NorbertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0865475784, Paperback)

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the potato was berated, feared, and loathed. It was blamed for everything from population explosions to population implosions, not to mention social upheaval and financial despair. Yet now, with the luxury of hindsight, Larry Zuckerman regards the potato as a saving grace for Western civilization, a crop that protected populations from starvation, encouraged self-sufficiency, and improved the lives of ordinary people. The potato's roller-coaster journey from dreary boiled peasant food into the most widely consumed vegetable on the planet is chronicled in this refreshing history lesson. The Potato goes way beyond the usual scope of spud history, which commonly focuses on the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s. Although this disaster is a key event in the book, the potato's broader influence in the Western world was far more complex--changing the shape of agrarian societies, triggering world emigration, and even influencing social-welfare reforms. Snippets from journals, newspaper editorials, and government documents make this a convincing and fascinating glimpse of four centuries' worth of a vegetable to which we normally wouldn't give a second thought. --Naomi Gesinger

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:48 -0400)

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