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3.0 out of 5 starsGood writing, bad research
Reviewed in the United States on August 18, 2018
Kurlansky's book may be better described as a how milk was USED in history, rather than as a history of milk. The book is well written, but it is confounding to have so many errors in the book, and so many conclusions that are simply wrong. For example, Kurlansky speculates on why we always see images in art of women breast feeding from the left. Well, the reason, if you ask a breast feeding mother, is that if you're right handed, you need the right hand to take care of everything else. He states as well, that cows produce 50-70 pounds of methane PER DAY. Think about that: 50-70 pounds PER DAY. Multiply that. That's a lot of gas (a pound of methane is just under a cubic gallon of volume) per year, and the number is wrong: the numbe is 70-120kg per YEAR. He has a substantial chapter on dairy product use in Asia. I checked with an expert in the field. Her assessment "good writing, bad facts." "Plumb pudding" is not named because "raisins were once called plums." "Plumb" is short for the Latin word for lead, because there was a lead toy placed in "Plumb pudding, " and sometimes still is. Bottom line is: people who read this book are in fact going to know something about the subject, but not everything. They, like me, are going to look at the new information and think "I didn't know that," and there's a reason: it's wrong. The 3 stars are because of the quality of the writing, and the interesting recipes.
4.0 out of 5 starsSkip the Recipes; Stay for the History
Reviewed in the United States on June 29, 2018
Mr. Kurlansky has a special skill with taking a small slice of the world—cod, salt, paper, the Basques—and showing how that small slice has had a huge impact on history, often in ways that is not immediately obvious. This time around he takes on milk and, as usual, does an excellent job.
There is much to learn here. Mammals are not biologically designed to drink milk beyond babyhood. Sometime over the past millennia, however, some humans have essentially bred themselves to be able to digest milk as an adult. (And some have not; thus, the lactose-intolerant.) Throughout that time to the present day, arguments about milk have raged. Is milk actually good for you? If so, which milk is best? (Cow? Goat? Sheep? Camel? Horse?...)
In point of fact, for most of history, milk has been comparatively unsafe to drink. It is easily contaminated and spoils quickly; thus, the development of cheeses and other dairy products. It is only in the past 100 years or so that pasteurization and other methods of purifying milk have made it safe enough to be generally sought after. Even then, people complained that safe milk was not as wholesome and tasty as raw milk. Milk, it seems, has always fights an uphill battle.
But what made milk desirable in the first place? Mr. Kurlansky reminds us that, until wide-scale production of sugar cane and sugar beets, milk was the sweetest food available to humans, apart from honey. That is why, in the Bible, the land of Canaan is referred to as a “land of milk and honey”—sweetness upon sweetness. In a world saturated with sugary foods and drinks, it is easy to forget this.
The main weakness in this book is the number of recipes scattered throughout the text. He notes that these are recipes worth trying at home; however, I would doubt that. I found most of them to be difficult to follow. Granted, I am not much of a cook but from what little I could gather, but they didn’t seem appetizing to me either. Many of them have some historical interest but not enough to justify how many he provides. Maybe a real cook would feel otherwise.
Milk is so common in the United States today that it is difficult to remember that this is only a recent phenomenon. Mr. Kurlansky takes us back through the history and shows us the huge impact the development of this foodstuff has had on us. It is definitely worth a read, even if you skip the recipes.
I am a big fan of Kurlansky's books on "micro-history". I have read Cod, Paper and Salt and loved how he weaved each of those topics into the bigger picture in history. Milk has missed the mark. Too many recipes interrupting the history and facts. It's as much a cookbook with some history as it is a history book with some recipes. I found myself bored and wishing he had left a few recipes out or put them in the end in an appendix. If you are fascinated with recipes, including arcane measurements, by all means read it.
Reviewed in the United States on December 18, 2020
This book has some interesting parts. The history of milk sections at the beginning of each chapter are good. However, there are whole sections where he shares recipes. One can only read so many old recipes involving milk. I ended up turning through most of them. I also thought it was weird that he didn't include hardly any current events of milk (challenges brought by milk substitutes, our national cheese glut, etc). All he really said is that American are drinking less milk. In fact, I exclaimed out loud at the end of the book "Oh it's done" because the book just kind of ends. I'm reading Salt right now and so far it's better than this book. Not a terrible read though.
I've been of fan of Mark Kurlansky since I first read "Salt," which led me to purchase all of his books as the years went by. "Milk" isn't my favorite book of his, but it was still a good read, perfect for a nerd like me. Fun to read, I learned a lot of fascinating facts and informative tidbits about dairy products and the hows and whys of how they have been used--and transformed--over the millennia.
No matter what the subject (or how mundane and perhaps boring it sounds), you can't go wrong picking up a book about a topic Mark Kurlansky has researched and written about.
I like the author, he writes some interesting history articles about the most common things in our daily lives that we never sit to think of. I like he crosses cultures and peoples to bring together how milk was used in different cultures. And not all milk is from the same animal. Some cultures used goats instead of cow, etc...
As a food historian, I am always on the lookout for a new book--and since I love Kurlansky's work, I jumped at this one. It is a fabulous telling of how important milk is in many cultures. Kurlansky puts in recipes, some are odd--but that is not the main focus. It reads like a novel--well paced and interesting.
if only the very lastchapter was expanded to cover the whole book it would have been great instead we have a somewhat confused historical overview of milk use that has little in way of narrative or order and coherence, and way too many recipes that take out way too much of the book (and let's face it, 80% of them no one will use) and hte last chapter - about modern arguments about milk, is presented with far too little evidence and in quite a superficial way still informative and entertaining, but somewhat of a disappointment