An Edible History of Humanity
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

An Edible History of Humanity

by
3.56 of 5 stars 3.56  ·  rating details  ·  1,200 ratings  ·  188 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)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
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
46th out of 576 books — 1,115 voters
Salt by Mark KurlanskyAt Home by Bill BrysonA History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom StandageGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
Histories of the Everyday
19th out of 161 books — 206 voters


More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
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...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...more
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
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
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...more
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...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...more
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
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
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
Michael
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...more
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
Warnie B.
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
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
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
Jeremy
A very readable, fairly broad treatment of food and its impact on humanity through the ages. I really enjoyed one of his other books ('A History of the World in 6 Glasses'), so was glad when a friend of mine gifted me this book at Christmas.

The first section of the book read like a Cliff Notes of 'Guns, Germs and Steel'. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it reinforces some of the things I learned by reading GG+S. The most interesting parts are in the middle, where he talks about the role...more
Renee
Last 2 sections were the best: Food as a Weapon and Food, Population, and Development.
John
Very interesting and edifying.
Susan
This book makes for good, light reading. (I got through it an evening, and since I’m a slow reader, I know it demanded little of me.) Those uninformed about history might find the material new. But people who are well-read on the birth of civilizations, or humanity’s complicated dance with the environment (both now and in the past) are aware of the social, technological, economic, cultural, societal, and political aspects of that yummy stuff we call our sustenance. This is a solid, single-volume...more
Debbie
This book had a few digressions that lost me, but mostly it was interesting and provocative. I find fascinating his reporting that humans' transition to agriculture from hunting gathering may have given us stability and civilization - but had deleterious consequences for health (in the short term, at least) and for our planet.

Standage does an excellent job covering the Soviet and Chinese famines of the 20th Century - stories that need to be told more forcefully than they generally are. I also l...more
Matthew Fitzgerald
After an engaging opening that recounts the gradual co-evolution of man and maize - something that I, like many, had read before but was nonetheless interested in reading again as a first step into Standage's book - I was a bit let down by the first chapter. And things just kept rolling down hill from there. While I appreciate the unique lens the author was attempting to view history through, the book has severe problems. Chief among them is Standage’s adoption of the very simple, often reductiv...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Food in History
  • Spice: The History of a Temptation
  • In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food
  • Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food
  • The True History of Chocolate
  • Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal
  • History of Food
  • Food: The History of Taste
  • The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice
  • Tea: The Drink that Changed the World
  • Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilization
  • Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages
  • The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World
  • Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking
  • Swindled: From Poison Sweets to Counterfeit Coffee—The Dark History of the Food Cheats
  • Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World
  • Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World
  • The Food of a Younger Land: The WPA's Portrait of Food in Pre-World War II America
2636
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

Share This Book