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An Edible History of Humanity

3.62  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,207 Ratings  ·  254 Reviews
Throughout history, food has acted as a catalyst of social change, political organization, geopolitical competition, industrial development, military conflict, and economic expansion. An Edible History of Humanity is a pithy, entertaining account of how a series of changes—caused, enabled, or influenced by food—has helped to shape and transform societies around the world.

Hardcover, 269 pages
Published May 19th 2009 by Walker Books
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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
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47th out of 751 books — 1,404 voters
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15th out of 227 books — 258 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Dec 24, 2011 Lisa rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 22, 2011 Ricky rated it did not like it
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
Nov 29, 2011 Mag rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 23, 2013 Book rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
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
Aug 10, 2009 Michael rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction-read
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
Mar 22, 2015 Joel rated it liked it
Shelves: history
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
Jun 09, 2010 Jasmine rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
David Schwan
Oct 26, 2014 David Schwan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 23, 2016 Zivile rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food
I've learned a lot of variations of history but never encountered one through a food lense.
It's a very objective and straightforward layout of food history and how it shaped human history. It might be too straighforward for some and therefore upsetting. But you just have to digest all this information.
Anyway, it definitely broadened my horizons and you don't have to agree with the author but it's a valuable information.
Lauren Brackenbury
Jan 14, 2015 Lauren Brackenbury rated it did not like it
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
May 18, 2009 Sara rated it really liked it
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
Jun 12, 2010 Monica rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 06, 2009 Thomas rated it it was ok
Shelves: audiobook, history
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
Dec 13, 2009 Anne rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in food and human culture
Shelves: non-fiction, borrowed
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
Feb 11, 2014 Erin rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 11, 2012 Sesana rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, nonfiction, food
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
Daha önce Tom Standage'ın 'Altı Bardakta Dünya Tarihi'ni okumuştum. Çok beğendiğim ve tarihi içecekler üzerinden bölmenin hoş bir buluş olduğunu düşündüğüm için yazarın bu kitabını da aldım. Ne yazık ki bu kitabı önceki kadar ilginç ve bilgilendirici bulmadım. Tarım, besin ve tarih açısından ilginç bilgiler var ama çoğu önceden okuduğum şeylerdi. Besin tarihi üzerinde hiç okuma yapmamış kişiler için ilginç olabilir ama benim beklentilerimi tam olarak karşılamadı. 'Altı Bardakta Dünya Tarihi'ni i ...more
E. Kahn
Mar 13, 2015 E. Kahn rated it liked it
I started the book with pleasant surprise. I was expecting a soft, self-justifying book for foodies and found a serious (if far too general) work about the way food and food production has shaped human society. The book is well researched, decently written and insightful.

There is, however, a near-fatal weakness.

Part V, "Food as a Weapon."

This part focuses on the 20th C famines in the Soviet Union and China, allegedly caused by Communist mismanagement (never mind that they were simply the last in
Mar 27, 2014 Mckinley rated it did not like it
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
Feb 26, 2011 Susan rated it it was ok
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
Matthew Fitzgerald
Sep 10, 2011 Matthew Fitzgerald rated it it was ok
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
Jun 13, 2012 Kam rated it really liked it
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
A historical overview of food, which, unless I misheard, said he didn't want to do the normal type of overview, but that this one was different. It wasn't. He gives a historical timeline of some of the biggies (hunter gather-farming) (spices trade) (starvation periods) but around the time of developing ...oh god...was it Nitrogen? it lost me... Seriously lost me. I just was bored to tears and wanted it to end. I didn't care about the "we can make this for the soil, or we can make this for bombs! ...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
Aug 14, 2013 S. rated it liked it
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
Mary Catelli
Sep 13, 2015 Mary Catelli rated it really liked it
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
Oct 13, 2014 Melody rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Ayça Yılmaz
Ansiklopedi tadında bir kitap. Her bölümün çok akıcı olduğunu söylemek zor. Ama ilgi çekici bölümlerinin olduğu kesin. Tarihe farklı bir yönde açılan bir pencere. Keşke bu kitabın okuru olarak tarihi daha çok seviyor olsaydım. Yine de besinin tarihi dikkati çekiyor
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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
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“Food has a unique political power, for several reasons: food links the world’s richest consumers with its poorest farmers; food choices have always been a potent means of social signaling; modern shoppers must make dozens of food choices every week, providing far more opportunities for political expression than electoral politics; and food is a product you consume, so eating something implies a deeply personal endorsement of it. But” 0 likes
“Spices were certainly regarded as antidotes to earthly squalor in another, more mystical sense. They were thought to be splinters of paradise that had found their way into the ordinary world.” 0 likes
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