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An Edible History of Humanity

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3.58 of 5 stars 3.58  ·  rating details  ·  1,524 ratings  ·  214 reviews
More than simply sustenance, food historically has been a kind of technology, changing the course of human progress by helping to build empires, promote industrialization, and decide the outcomes of wars. Tom Standage draws on archaeology, anthropology, and economics to reveal how food has helped shape and transform societies around the world, from the emergence of farming ...more
Hardcover, 269 pages
Published May 19th 2009 by Walker & Company (first published 2009)
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The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanKitchen Confidential by Anthony BourdainAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara KingsolverFast Food Nation by Eric SchlosserIn Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Food-Related Non-Fiction
47th out of 643 books — 1,241 voters
Salt by Mark KurlanskyAt Home by Bill BrysonThe Professor and the Madman by Simon WinchesterA History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom StandageGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Histories of the Everyday
18th out of 247 books — 224 voters


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Community Reviews

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Lisa
I'll start by admitting that I gave up on this piece of trash half way through the audiobook. After 5 hours of horrid narration I did not hear a single fact that was news to me, nor even an interesting interpretation of known facts.

The writing is disjointed, and meaningless extra words and phrases are thrown in so that the whole thing comes across as a first year history student's lazy attempt to meet the word count requirements for his assignment. The author also editorializes in random, bizar
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Erica
This book SUCKS. How do you give an "edible history of humanity" without talking in-depth about SLAVERY. and THE PEOPLE INVOLVED IN FOOD PRODUCTION. that was my first reaction. It would be more accurate if he called the book, "An Edible History of European Humanity: The Only Humanity Worth Noting" or "An Edible Ignorance of the Dehumanization of Most of Humanity." The only time he tries to speak for the lower classes is when he's railing against communism. I also noted very early on that Standag ...more
Mag
Standage looks at food from a geopolitical, anthropological and ethical point of view. The book is mainly about how food and agriculture have changed and keep changing history and development of humankind.

I didn’t find absolutely everything of interest to me there- for example, I have read about spices and their role in the progress of mankind a countless number of times by now. But there was enough other information to make it for a worthwhile read.

Here are some tidbits of what I found interest
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Book
An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage

"An Edible History of Humanity" is the interesting history of the world through the transformative role of food. Science correspondent and accomplished author Tom Standage follows up his best-seller "A History of the World in 6 Glasses" with another appealing book but this time it's about the intersections between food history and world history. This informative 288-page book is broken out by the following six parts: 1. The Edible Foundations of Civil
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Corinne
This book isn't really about eating food. It's not about tasting food or cooking food. An Edible History of Humanity is about food's place in world history - the roles it has filled, the drama that has sometimes surrounded it and the absolute necessity for our world to deal with it on a daily basis.

We start at the beginning, learning about hunter-gatherers and the transition to more farming-based agriculture. Food is discussed as a major reason why the world started being explored by countries t
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Michael
Standage, who is the business editor at the Economist, has done a credible job of surveying the influence of food on human history. His overview of theories on the origin of agriculture is a bit light, but his treatment of improved methods of food production as a technological breakthrough that directly assisted industrialization is interesting. Also interesting is his analysis of the spice trade and the Columbian exchange. It is in his writing about the green revolution, biotechnology, organic ...more
Monica
I won this book as a First Reads Give Away. An Edible History of Humanity was an intriguing title. For me it held the promise of using food as a way of approaching world history. I thought of other books which have used salt, or some other seemingly mundane item, to provide a different perspective of human connections, exchanges, and developments. While the author of this book may have had a similar goal, his approach is so general and over reaching, that his analysis holds very little substance ...more
Thomas
This is not a bad book, merely an unnecessary one. Standage must have realized this, as he begins with a justification for the book. While it is true that this book provides a broader historical treatment of agriculture than anything I have read before, most of the material is familiar. Nor do we get a radical new interpretation of food; Standage starts with the conventional wisdom that agriculture is the basis of civilization and ends with a call for a new green revolution.

As I said, it's not
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Joel
A book about how the foods people eat have affected the development of human civilization. There aren't really any new ideas here, and compared to a book such as Charles Mann's "1493", for instance- about the exchange of species between the Old World and the New, and its sometimes catastrophic effects- Standage's effort is rather lightweight. The book is not nearly comprehensive; the author focuses mainly on the development of the major cereal grains (maize, wheat, rice), plus potatoes and spice ...more
Lara
Interesting, but not mind blowing. The first half of the book felt like very familiar ground--not much that you wouldn't find in a Michael Pollan book or in your middle school history classes. The section on spices was better, but it wasn't until the section on food as a weapon that I found myself really intrigued. That section covers a lot of things I felt I SHOULD have already known, but didn't, and I was pretty horrified by it. I'd never actually read a book that traced major changes in human ...more
Sesana
Not a bad read, but not really to my tastes. This is very much macrohistory, since it attempts to cover the entire history of humanity through food in just under 250 pages. My tastes in history books usually runs towards microhistory. (Other topics I've enjoyed reading histories of: gin, curry, milk, the color blue, and striped cloth.) Basically, the author tries to cover huge spans of time with a few sweeping statements, over and over. There's no other way to write what he intended, though. If ...more
David Schwan
This is really a history book showing how food in general has shaped world history. This is one of those rare books that presents facts many would have learned in school and showing connections that you did not realize were there. This book changed my view of some key events in European history. This book is deceiving in that it promotes deep thinking about certain events. The book is a bit rambling in places and that led me to only give 4 stars.
Erin
I really liked this one. I highly recommend it to anyone, and especially to anyone with a highly polarized view of issues like GMOs, organic farming, and chemical fertilization. I don't expect it to sway anyone's opinion dramatically, but it's a good reminder of how none of these issues are simple. I felt that Standage did an excellent job of presenting the facts and theories, without pushing a political agenda, and without using the sensationalist language that usually surround such heavy topic ...more
Sara
Tom Standage’s AN EDIBLE HISTORY OF HUMANITY is exactly that--it is a digestible broad account of humanity through the scope of food. The book is broken up into sections that explain how time and again food changed the face of humanity. For example food is credited with civilization, exploration, and industrialization. Since humans have to eat, this book not only explores the evolution of food, but also how food helped evolve culture.

Standage is particularly apt at explaining terms, and theorie
...more
Kam
Food is, hands-down, one of my favorite topics. I love eating food, and I also love cooking it - as long as I don't have to stand over spattering oil, of course. As a child I was a very picky eater, but over the years I've gotten rid of that habit, and when I go out with my friends and family nowadays I'm more open to trying things out than I was before. I'm also a firm believer in the idea that one of the fastest ways to understand a culture is to understand - and eat - their food.

Filipino food
...more
Lisa Vegan
Well, it’s hard for me to rate and review this book. And, I did read it when I was having a hard time reading and was probably more in the mood for a good novel. But I love this subject matter. I’ve read other history of foodstuffs books and I am fascinated.

This book felt confusing because on the one hand it seemed to try to be comprehensive, a complete history up to a possible future, yet so much was left out. The information that was provided was for the most part fascinating (and I did learn
...more
S.
Aug 14, 2013 S. rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: hookah
Standage for the first half of the book merely echoes the 1997 Guns Germs and Steel, retelling the story of plant domestication and gene exchange; the Columbian food plant exchange. although the second half picks up with an account of canning, Civil war and Napoleon's armies' foraging, by the end we're left with a 135 page book instead of a 270 page one. can't be recommended at full retail, although wouldn't be a terrible loss at remainder prices. in many ways clearly an attempt to pick up reade ...more
Jasmine
I won this book on GoodReads!

At the risk of never again winning a book on GoodReads, I can not, in good conscience, recommend this book to anyone.

Aside from being poorly written, this book annoyed me to the point of wanting to put it through the shredder and dump it into my compost pile, to later use in my pesticide-free garden.
Apparently, the answer to the problem of industrialized food problems, food crisis, and overpopulation, is to create more debt for farmers, create more and "better" genet
...more
Mary Catelli
A little inaccurate that title. It's more about times where food history has been made, and times when food has had a great impact on non-food history.

Not that there's a lack of those times. And there's wonderful little details along the way.


It starts with a discussion of how the major grains have been altered by mankind's harvesting habits -- such things as ripening together, instead of spreading out to avoid the danger of a bad spell -- and how agriculture may have been mankind's biggest mista
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Anne
Dec 13, 2009 Anne rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in food and human culture
Shelves: borrowed, non-fiction
This book is a survey of human history from the vantage point of our relationship with food, and covers a broad span of time, from the beginnings of agriculture to modern debates around food such as genetically modified organisms and local eating.

Most fascinating to me were some of the connections between a degradation of health (as seen in the archaelogical record) when humans began settling into communities and depending on farmed foods rather than the hunter/gatherer procurement strategies, a
...more
Melody
The narrator had some ludicrous fake accents that were worthy of a seventies sitcom. The author's bent seemed positively colonial at times. There were interesting parts, for sure, but much of it made me sputter, "Wait! What about the slavery that caused this to be a profitable crop?" or "Wait! What about the runoff from this awesome fertilizer?" or "Wait! Can we talk about how Monsanto sucks?" Standage appears to have unlimited faith in technology, and I don't.
Eileen
Fantastic read! The politics of food is certainly one that has driven wars and peace. What the West did with the trading systems of the world gives pause to think about how history has really been shaped. Drives home the point that once humanity became farmers, rather than hunters and gatherers, the real quest for arable land began. Easier to invade and take over another culture or to instigate slavery to solve the food problem. Linked with Empires of Food , another great read, you can see the r ...more
Elizabeth
An Edible History of Humanity is an interesting journey that sheds light on the history of food availability and production and how it has shaped us politically, economically and ideologically through millenia.

What made this a truly compelling book is the level to which Tom Standage has researched the material and goes into the ramifications of choices through history. While it would be easy to gloss over things one-dimensionally, he challenges us to think about how many topics are traditionally
...more
Stephen
Tom Standage offers a course in human history set at the dinner table, beginning with agriculture and moving swiftly to the green revolution. His A History of the World in Six Glasses used given beverages to exemplify a historical epoch; beer covered agriculture, wine the classical era, and so on through to consumerism’s Coca-Cola. An Edible History of Humanity isn’t quite as tidy, but whereas most of his beverages were recreational drinks, food is serious business. Beginning with civilization a ...more
Tina
I thought this was very informative. I especially enjoyed the "Food As A Weapon" section.
Lauren Brackenbury
An Edible History of Humanity was sort of entertaining, as it contains lots of colorful anecdotes, but much of it felt like a less substantive (and very derivative) version of Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemna (cf the discussion of corn). Moreover, I came away feeling like behind his pseudo-intellectualism, Standage is either really ignorant, or sort of a schmuck. His political beliefs, when they show through, are disturbing.

For example, Standage describes several instances of famines in which the nat
...more
Mckinley
Cursory look at the entire history of humanity through the lens of food in no more than 250 some pages! Which means huge influences and tragedies are overlooked while cherry-picking low hanging fruit.

I found the book lacks focus and could use some editing. (Ironic, since he was a business editor for the The Economist. and yet this lacks much if any economic focus.) Transitions are very bumpy at times and leaps are made to add in things (such as creation myths) without tying them back to the mai
...more
Rebecca
Starting with hunter gatherers and going up to 2008 and the Svalbard Seed Bank, the author explores how food has influenced history and culture. He covers the switch to agriculture, food and warfare, food and trading, artificially created famines, environmental concerns, the slave trade, the advent of chemical fertilizers, and more.

While interesting, I have to admit I found this pretty depressing, starting off with the author's suggestion that mankind's biggest mistake was developing agriculture
...more
Chuck
Tom Standage's "An Edible History of Humanity" is a survey of food in human history. It ranges from human pre-history, when we were hunter-gatherers through the Twentieth Century, and across the entire globe. Although an under 300 page book cannot cover every topic in complete depth, Standage does select core topics and goes through the the central ideas for each. His selection of topics includes the standard ones, as are his discussions.

I found the book well written and interesting. While nothi
...more
Jeff Hrusko
I think the books Rabid and Salt took me down the path of reading books that follow one subject throughout history, I have to say that this book does it better than any I’ve read so far.

For me the mark of a good book is if it changes my perception for the better, and his book has. Sam Standage’s prose presents complex interconnections, such as, the genetic development of corn, from a harsh grass to a staple crop and the civilizations that developed with it, in a way that’s understandable and en
...more
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Tom Standage is a journalist and author from England. A graduate of Oxford University, he has worked as a science and technology writer for The Guardian, as the business editor at The Economist, has been published in Wired, The New York Times, and The Daily Telegraph, and has published five books, including The Victorian Internet[1][2]. This book explores the historical development of the telegrap ...more
More about Tom Standage...
A History of the World in 6 Glasses The Victorian Internet The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine Writing on the Wall: Social Media - The First 2,000 Years The Neptune File: A Story of Astronomical Rivalry and the Pioneers of Planet Hunting

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