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
"[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)
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.
mostly nonfiction listener
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).
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.
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