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Bananas!: How The United Fruit Company Shaped the World

3.4  ·  Rating Details ·  515 Ratings  ·  104 Reviews
“If you only read a handful of nonfiction books this year, [Bananas!] is among your recommended five portions.” —The Observer

In this gripping exploration of corporate manuevering and subterfuge, Peter Chapman shows how the importer United Fruit set the precedent for the institutionalized power and influence of today's multinational companies. Bananas! is a sharp and lively
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published January 21st 2008 by Canongate U.S. (first published 2007)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,150)
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Jun 07, 2012 Rebecca rated it liked it
Definitely an interesting read, though I'll echo what other reviewers have mentioned about the book: the writing leaves a lot to be desired. The introduction and epilogues, in particular, are clunky and disorganized. Once Chapman finally began describing events chronologically, I was hooked.

This is less a book about bananas and more a book about the interrelated histories of colonization, capitalism and globalization. The banana lens gives us an interesting, and, at times, entertaining, way to l
John Gurney
Bananas: How The United Fruit Company Shaped The World follows from inauspicious birth to heyday a corporation so powerful it orchestrated coups against unfriendly governments. It invented Seniorita Chiquita Banana. The book overreaches in saying it's a "United Fruit World", though UF had huge impact in the early 20th Century, introducing the banana to the world, standardizing bananas, and transforming huge swaths of Central American jungle to plantations via its "banana boats", railroads, ports ...more
Sep 27, 2015 Jeffrey rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food
I really enjoyed the earlier chapters that dealt with the swashbuckling beginnings of the banana industry and the United Fruit Company. He is at his best when he stick to bananas. The book goes bad when he strays into politics and economics, which are clearly not his strength and he simply drops blanket statements with no nuance or explanation. He comes down pretty clearly in the side of free market big business, which is irritating, especially when his politics shouldn't be prominent in a nonfi ...more
Dec 12, 2012 Carole rated it really liked it
This is a quick read and good overview of a company that had outsized influence in Central America. In a depressingly familiar scenario, it recounts how US capitalist interests lead to intereference in, manipulation, and control of the affairs of weaker nations. This is not an in depth history, but rather a breezy summary that may not be well nuanced. But Chapman makes a strong case that the practices of United Fruit, and its government connections, served as the model and precedent for internat ...more
Nathan Willard
Feb 17, 2011 Nathan Willard rated it really liked it
Shelves: business, food
As other reviewers have suggested, the book is fairly short and Chapman is not the world's most enthralling narrative writer. But I really enjoyed the fairly crazy way that the united fruit company dominated several countries for a century and then, basically, blew up. I particularly liked the history of the banana trade, and how UFC was an anachronistic holdover from the early periods of modern imperialism in latin america by the end of its period of dominance. In particular, I appreciated how ...more
May 31, 2016 Miranda rated it really liked it
Peter Chapman is a journalist and author, who works for the Financial Times and has done so since 1995. He was formerly a foreign correspondent in South and Central America for the BBC and the Guardian. He graduated from the London School of Economics with a masters in economics. He knows what he’s talking about.
Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World by Peter Chapman is a detailed history of the United Fruit Company and its many challenges and duplicities that occurred in it’s p
May 31, 2010 Joel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
didn't know anything about the united fruit company - the prototype for the modern multinational corporation, or about the history of bananas for that matter, but it made for pretty interesting reading. Moved quickly, taught me a lot in training for jeopardy, gave a really good understanding of some of the central american dynamics under Big Banana, etc.
May 26, 2016 James rated it really liked it
The humble banana actually has a great back story and an impressive influence on the modern world. If you want a broader overview of the topic, I can recommend Dan Koeppel's book Banana.

But a significant era in the fruit's history took place in roughly the last 100 years, giving rise to many things, including the phrase 'banana republic'. That is mostly the story of United Fruit, a multinational that even had countries declare war on each other.

This book is a nice and brief look at the history o
Feb 07, 2010 Kim rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, food
I learned a lot I didn't know about the history of US involvement in Central America at the beginning of the last century. But I thought the overall treatment was unsatisfyingly superficial. Would have liked more intellectual rigor.
Gabriel Villabon
A lost opportunity by Mr. Chapman: such interesting subject should have made a great book; instead, it turned out to be superficial, incoherent, uninformed, and lacking in specifics and facts. Poorly written, the author's use and abuse of colons makes reading tortured and halting. I had to go over a number of paragraphs to understand what the author was trying to say.
The book started with the suicide of Eli Black, whom certainly, I expected, the author would come back to in more detail; sadly, w
Oct 01, 2013 Christina rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I should preface this review by stating my bias against bananas. They taste rather like how I imagine cardboard would taste, and I can barely tolerate them in smoothies let alone in baked goods. But bananas are one of the most popular fruits in the United States and this book, subtitled “How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World”, ended up on the list of books I wanted to read for the Honors Project. Unfortunately, I had a difficult time sourcing a copy of this book until now so I missed the ...more
David Frison
Aug 06, 2011 David Frison rated it really liked it
A good and entertaining overview of the cautionary tale of United Fruit, covering its history and cataloging its corporate crimes against Central and South America and those of the usually complicit U.S. government. The book's greatest strength is probably the clarity with which it explains how the company established its monopoly and de facto governance over the "banana republics", while painting vivid and complete portraits of its founders.

As the history progresses, however, the book far too o
Margo Brooks
Sep 24, 2011 Margo Brooks rated it liked it
Good book worth reading--especially now in the age of multinational corporations. I always knew that United Fruit was a "bad" company. I visited a banana plantation when I was in college and learned only a little about the difficulties people faced there. I didn't know that United Fruit was instrumental in numerous coups in Central America and even provided boats for the Bay of Pigs invasion. I didn't know the company was based in Boston, and I didn't know it was one of the great originators of ...more
Clark Hays
Nov 06, 2011 Clark Hays rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We live in a banana-shaped world

I found this work thoroughly engaging. It's as much a critique of capitalism unregulated as it is a history of the fruit or the fruit company. "Bananas" peels the skin back on big business to reveal a soft and rotten core. From land swindles to destabilizing governments, from machine gun massacres to human rights violation, from propaganda to market manipulation, Chapman takes an unflinching look at just how far an organization motivated solely by profits is willi
Sue Pit
Aug 03, 2011 Sue Pit rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Read this in 2008, so this is a copy/paste of my review thereof which had earlier been posted elsewhere (just collating here).

Having read "Bananas, How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World" by Peter Chapman provided new insight as to this seemingly ubiquitous and inexpensive exotic fruit now consumed by Americans more than apples and oranges combined! The banana is a relatively new to these northern climates, at least in mass amounts. For most of the twentieth century , United Fruit had a m
Laurie Tomchak
May 07, 2013 Laurie Tomchak rated it liked it
This book was chosen for a class I am going to teach in the fall. I think it was a good choice, because for a non-fiction book it is light and kind of jokey. I only detected one slight error: the author says that "Pepe"
Figueres, President of Costa Rica, had a Swedish wife, but she was actually of Danish descent, born in New York. For many people, this book will tell them more than they want to know about the United Fruit Company and its skullduggery in Central America, or just enough, but perhap
Apr 13, 2011 Kevin rated it it was ok
Shelves: political
Geez, this book was a real snoozer! While it offers some interesting history (bananas are cloned & can't reproduce, Standard Fruit became Dole and United Fruit became Chiquita), it is very poorly written. The beginning and the end were the only attention grabbers.
I did enjoy how Chapman mentioned UFC as the forefather of the multinational corporations. He then goes on about how the future of the world may indeed be the "market state." In light of the Citizens United Supreme Court case of
This is a succinct, fact-packed history of both banana consumption in Western societies and the company that made it happen, the United Fruit Company.

Ignorant as I was about most things banana, I found the book very informative. I wasn’t aware, for example, that the UFC is still around after a name change and a move from Manhattan to Cincinnati. Keep your eyes peeled for “Chiquita” stickers next time you go banana shopping: they will have been brought to you by the company formerly known as Uni
Jun 10, 2012 Paul rated it it was ok
I may have started reading this book with expectations that were too high. It's an interesting subject, but it wasn't handled all that well. There is a list of characters at the start of the book, together with a brief description of who they are. That description, however, is often most of the information provided. There has to be more there, not only about the players involved but the events that make up the history of United Fruit. The book just feels incomplete and too much feels glossed ove ...more
sarah  corbett morgan
Sep 19, 2009 sarah corbett morgan rated it it was amazing
An extraordinary examination of The Octopus, United Fruit, and how it shaped politics, foreign policy, and finance in the US and across Latin America. Chapman covers the beast from its inception until its death when Eli Black jumped out the forty-fourth floor of the Pan Am building in New York.

There is a lesson to be learned from this large multi-national corporation, Chapman argues. He asks his readers to examine the legacy of United Fruit and extrapolate those lessons of unbridled greed to cu
Jun 17, 2008 Andrew rated it liked it
Shelves: food-books
This book reads as a well written and engaging article from - and I was looking for a bit more about the BANANAS. However, I'm enjoying it, it just will be much slower....

I don't think I'll read this entire book, just flip through and read parts. The intro chapters and epilogue, but not all the history. I'm interested in corporations as the current dominant social institution, and this sets up United Fruit as pioneering multi-national corporate behavior for the last hundred yea
I'm giving this book an extra star because it does a decent job recapping the history of the west over the past century or so, something my public school education failed to do. Good, if shallow, reflection on capitalism, social democracy, communism, and a lack of self-determinism in the banana republics.

A few interesting facts, like that the banana no longer is capable of reproduction and new plants are simply grafted, that this monoculture is precariously close to being wiped out by a disease
Meegan McCorkle
Jun 13, 2012 Meegan McCorkle rated it liked it
I gleaned some valuable history lessons from Bananas! but I thought I'd enjoy the read more. Chapman has some fun historical tidbits about the development of the banana industry, but I was hoping for even more color--more detailed anecdotes about key players and characters-in-passing (a la Erik Larson.) I also felt like he dispensed with some major historical events: revolutions, massacres, etc. in just a handful of paragraphs. That keeps Bananas! short--so the reader isn't overwhelmed--but it k ...more
Jul 23, 2010 BookSweetie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The two is pushing three stars...The opening of this compact little volume by a Financial Times /BBC Latin American journalist offers an engaging beginning glimpse into the cultural history of the banana and a look at the rise and fall of the United Fruit Company, whose story seems relevant in the globalized world in which we all live.
The London Guardian quote on the cover prompted me to scoop this off the shelf (and so far I have not been disappointed): "Chapman's achievement is to make us re
Christopher Rex
Mar 02, 2010 Christopher Rex rated it it was ok
This book is incredibly average. Its blessing is its curse - it's 200 pages. The beauty of that is, you don't have to invest much in the book (which is good b/c it's not particularly good). The problem is, for a topic like "bananas" and the United Fruit Company, the book falls incredibly flat in providing any detailed account. Basically, my take is that this was the author's Master's Thesis (or undergraduate) and he turned it into a book. Take a look at the Bibliography if you want to see how IN ...more
Ian Mchugh

This book took me an A-G-E to get through despite being less than 250 pages long!

The premise of the book seems to have come from the authors dissertation at university, and whilst I'm sure that was interesting and readable, the extension of the essay into a longer book doesn't quite work. As an introduction to the role of United Fruit in Central America it probably has some value as it is short and concise.
Unfortunately, as I came to the book after reading more detailed and analytical accoun
Kim Pallister
Oct 03, 2012 Kim Pallister rated it liked it
United Fruit was the biggest and most ruthless multi-national corporation that most people have never heard of. Long before Coca Cola, McDonalds, GM, and Starbucks spread across the globe, United Fruit was ruling nations, toppling governments, and exploiting workers all in the name of bringing fresh bananas to first world breakfast tables.

There's an interesting, convoluted history here. It drags a bit at times, but in others is quite exciting. Not many business histories involve boatloads of mer
Rose Behar
Mar 02, 2016 Rose Behar rated it liked it
Fascinating story about the crooks and louts that created the banana industry, terrible writing. It was downright difficult to read. I found myself scanning each sentence two or three times, forcing myself to unpack and make sense of each awkward, academic passage. Could've been a great tale with the right writer.
Jan 20, 2009 David rated it really liked it
Bananas! is a hard hitting look at the incredible influence the United Fruit Company had on the politics and economies of Central America. It is filled with interesting facts, e.g. the Banana itself is at risk for extinction having not had sex for thousands of years and as a result not developing a resistance to current disease strains, was well as detailed information on the roles various United Fruit Company members played in toppling national governments. My one critique is that the facts are ...more
John Brugge
Sep 24, 2016 John Brugge rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Think of it as the history of globalization as seen through the eyes of United Fruit, the folks who gave the world banana republics. Uneven in spots, but some really good context for understanding the Guatemalan coup of 1954 and the Bay of Pigs in 1961 by laying out the history of the company, it's founders, and society from the late 19th century on.
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