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The Untold History of the Potato | [John Reader]

The Untold History of the Potato

The potato - humble, lumpy, bland, familiar - is a decidedly unglamorous staple of the dinner table. Or is it? John Reader's narrative on the role of the potato in world history suggests we may be underestimating this remarkable tuber. From domestication in Peru 8,000 years ago to its status today as the world's fourth largest food crop, the potato has played a starring - or at least supporting - role in many chapters of human history.
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Publisher's Summary

The potato - humble, lumpy, bland, familiar - is a decidedly unglamorous staple of the dinner table. Or is it? John Reader's narrative on the role of the potato in world history suggests we may be underestimating this remarkable tuber. From domestication in Peru 8,000 years ago to its status today as the world's fourth largest food crop, the potato has played a starring - or at least supporting - role in many chapters of human history. In this witty and engaging book, John Reader opens our eyes to the power of the potato.

Whether embraced as the solution to hunger or wielded as a weapon of exploitation, blamed for famine and death or recognized for spurring progress, the potato has often changed the course of human events. Reader focuses on 16th-century South America, where the indigenous potato enabled Spanish conquerors to feed thousands of conscripted native people; 18th-century Europe, where the nutrition-packed potato brought about a population explosion; and today's global world, where the potato is an essential food source but also the world's most chemically-dependent crop. Where potatoes have been adopted as a staple food, social change has always followed. It may be "just" a humble vegetable, John Reader shows, yet the history of the potato has been anything but dull.

©2009 John Reader; (P)2009 Audible Ltd

What the Critics Say

"[T]his accessible account embraces the latest scholarship and addresses the failings of previous works on the subject. Indeed the book, like the tuber it describes, fills a void: the spud now has the biography it deserves." (The Economist)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.0 (72 )
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4.0 (48 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Andy Westport, CT, United States 03-04-10
    Andy Westport, CT, United States 03-04-10 Member Since 2002
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "better than fries"

    John Reader does a great job taking us through the history of the potato, both in terms of its evolution as a plant and its interesting geography.
    Beyond that, you learn a great deal about what led to, as well as the tragic consequences of the Irish potato famine. Hyder delivers a terrific narration in his wonderful British accent.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joshua Kim Etna, NH, United States 06-10-12
    Joshua Kim Etna, NH, United States 06-10-12 Member Since 2005

    mostly nonfiction listener

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Potato Story"

    The best of "one subject / one food" books that I've read (and I try to read them all). The way my brain works is that I understand the world best through a narrow lens. The potato is a narrative in which it is possible to hang the major changes of civilization, including the move from subsistence to surplus farming, industrialization, and migration. Did you know that China is now the largest grower of potato's? Or that it was the potato that allowed Europe to finally escape the Malthusian trap of population growth and starvation? Wonderful, amazing and beautiful book. Since reading I've considerably upped my potato consumption (a great source of vitamins and energy with little poor effects).

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    S Willow Beach, ON, Canada 09-24-13
    S Willow Beach, ON, Canada 09-24-13 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not what it says it will be"

    I was looking forward to a botanical history of the potato as well as an agricultural history. This was a political history and near the end of the book I found I was just counting dangling participles . . . there were glimmerings of interesting material . . . and it just didn't measure up to my expectations! (I had just finished the History of Salt - which I enjoyed immensely, and this was a real let-down!)

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    ng Singapore, Singapore 05-17-10
    ng Singapore, Singapore 05-17-10
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    "Boring as a potato"

    Potato is a boring root vegetable and this book is as boring as its subject. I should have guessed from the title. I thought it would be intriguing to see how this book can make a dry subject interesting, but no, it didn't.

    6 of 12 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-4 of 4 results
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  • John
    Bangor, County Down, United Kingdom
    2/7/10
    Overall
    "Warmed up mis-Mash of Cold Potato"

    Before I wasted my monthly credit on this so-called 'untold' review of scholarly agri-economics articles and famous books like The Great Hunger, garnished with dusty Press clippings and all-too-few anecdotes about his own travels, I was looking forward to an entertaining account of a potentially fascinating foodie subject in the style of Mark Kurlansky's COD: A Biography of the Fish that Changed History. Alas, this is a Potato mis-Mash that can only be recommended to those with an academic interest in the production figures of spuds in Papua New Guinea and the effect of blight in the High Andes. Also, I have lived in Ireland for almost 70 years and I have NEVER hear potatoes described as 'praties' except in an Oirish song written for Americans to sing on \"Saint Paddy's Day\", another term that would make real Irish people cringe. An unappetising cold potato of a book that has given me mental indigestion.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • Piotr
    LeicesterUnited Kingdom
    3/4/10
    Overall
    "history from the point of view of potatoes"

    As you can guess from the title this is history told from the point of view of potatoes. It is surplice for me how big was this impact of potatoes on the human history. This is a book for everyone how is interested in history. For me this book and her reader is also good for improving my English.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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