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Bananas!: How The United Fruit Company Shaped the World
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Bananas!: How The United Fruit Company Shaped the World

3.36 of 5 stars 3.36  ·  rating details  ·  427 ratings  ·  96 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
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Hardcover, 272 pages
Published January 21st 2008 by Canongate U.S. (first published 2007)
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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
Jeffrey
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
Carole
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
Rebecca
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
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Nathan Willard
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
Joel
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.
Kim
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
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Christina
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
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
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Margo Brooks
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
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
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Sue Pit
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
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Laurie Tomchak
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
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Kevin
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
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Eduardo
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
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Paul
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
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
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Andrew
This book reads as a well written and engaging article from www.corpwatch.org - 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
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Kate
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
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Meegan McCorkle
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
Kristine
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
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Christopher Rex
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
Gah!

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
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Kim Pallister
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
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David
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
Karen
Dry read. Let's face it, he covers over a hundred years of United Fruit history in about 200 pages, so what would we expect. Very informative about how corporations in general and United Fruit specifically shape the world we live in. It is also a reminder of how history repeats itself when we are not diligent and sometimes even when we think we are. Living in Bocas del Toro Panama, all the old stories here are of Christopher Columbus' stop here and of United Fruit. Chiquita is still active here ...more
Tom
The topic of this book, the United Fruit Company and its involvement in the politics of the Caribbean Islands and Central America, should have been really interesting. The book, however, was written in a style which was neither engaging nor particularly informative. At only around 200 pages, it was a quick read, but it was only a primer on the issue, rather than an in depth analysis of the company.

Perhaps the other title, Bananas: an American History, was the one actually worth reading.
Connie
this topic has been of great interest to me since gabriel introduced me to it in 100 years of solitude.

this company has been unlike any other. it was called the octopus bc its long reaching arms were in almost everything political, revolutionary, capitalistic. it deals with costa rica, honduras, cuba, ecuador,

very interesting read. their reach spans from 1871 to 1975 and perhaps into today...
Meri
A fascinating look at the economic powers that ran the Americas during the nineteenth century. United Fruit was largely responsible for the turmoil that still exists in Latin America today. As Gabriel Garcia Marquez said, "Look at the mess we've got ourselves into just because we invited a gringo to eat some bananas." The company's spotted history includes staging two rebellions and supporting military dictatorships to maintain economic control over the banana industry. Though United Fruit no lo ...more
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