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An Edible History of Humanity

by Tom Standage

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7703921,720 (3.56)44
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, and 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.… (more)
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» See also 44 mentions

English (39)  Danish (1)  All languages (40)
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
nonfiction/social history (audiobook). It was an ok way to pass 9 hours driving. The narrator's voices (for Columbus, British and Dutch diplomats, etc.) all tend to sound like the same voice--pompous and condescending--and his Asian and African accents need work, but it was OK. ( )
  reader1009 | Jul 3, 2021 |
I'll start by admitting that I gave up on this piece of trash half way through the audiobook. After 5 hours of horrid narration I did not hear a single fact that was news to me, nor even an interesting interpretation of known facts.

The writing is disjointed, and meaningless extra words and phrases are thrown in so that the whole thing comes across as a first year history student's lazy attempt to meet the word count requirements for his assignment. The author also editorializes in random, bizarre ways. For example while discussing the spice trade, he suddenly goes on a tangential rant about his disagreement about the "eat local" movement. He justifies his position against eating locally by talking about the western tradition of colonizing and trading with far off countries. However he has no observations or opinions, or even mention, of the genocide and slavery that accompanied these activities.

The author sounds like a throwback from the 1940's, speaking in favour of colonialism, monoculture, heavy food exportation and even saying that it is in the best interests of developing countries to dedicate their land to the export of cash crops.

And the narration is even worse than the writing. The writer has tried to stretch out the book with a lot of excerpts from historical documents and the narrator does voices for these excerpts that are at best silly and annoying but often just sound racist. If the excerpt was written from a western historian, the narrator does a voice that sounds like Johnny Carson's swami character. But for the many excerpts from non-western sources, the narrator does accents such as "slow indian" that are unbelievably offensive. ( )
  northwestknitter | Mar 28, 2021 |
Why can't we learn our history from books like this instead of the droll, slanted, history text books we get issued in school.? This was fun and interesting and corrected many misconceptions I learned.

Audiobook note :excellent narrator ( )
  marshapetry | Oct 16, 2020 |
Lot's of interesting information oddly organized in a way that destroys any hope of a narrative and making it feel like a textbook. ( )
  Narshkite | Jul 24, 2020 |
A very broad, breezy, introductory overview of the history of food/ agriculture. The book was interesting even if it didn't cover anything terribly new. A "salad" book. No meat. ( )
  ElentarriLT | Mar 24, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Standage, Tomprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cumptich, Roberto de Vicq deCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Kirstin, my partner in food -- and everything else.
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There are many ways to look at the past: as a list of important dates, a conveyor belt of kings and queens, a series of rising and falling empires, or a narrative of political, philosophical, or technological progress.
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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, and 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.

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