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The Hamburger: A History

3.22  ·  Rating Details ·  127 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews
What do Americans think of when they think of the hamburger? A robust, succulent spheroid of fresh ground beef, the birthright of red-blooded citizens? Or a Styrofoam-shrouded Big Mac, mass-produced to industrial specifications and served by wage slaves to an obese, brainwashed population? Is it cooking or commodity? An icon of freedom or the quintessence of conformity?


Paperback, 160 pages
Published May 26th 2009 by Yale University Press (first published 2008)
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Community Reviews

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Aug 29, 2015 Orsolya rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: exposes, library-2, food
Although I am Vegetarian, even I recognize hamburgers as being a quintessential symbol of All-American food. From fast food to barbecues, gastro pubs to school lunches, casual to celebratory… They are virtually everywhere. How did this basic sandwich come to be? What does it symbolize? Josh Ozersky looks at the social and pop history of a burger in, “The Hamburger”.

To be clear, Ozersky aimed to cover the social history of burgers but that isn’t quite how “The Hamburger” turned out. Ozersky’s “T
I thought this was a relatively light/food history book. It focused on the differences between a sandwich with ground meat and an actual 'Hamburger.' I was disappointed in its overall history of the hamburger. I was expecting more "meat" in the conversation. Ozersky spends a lot of time discussing McDonald's (makes sense) but not enough on other burger chains. In addition, this book was recently published and yet devotes about 5 pages to the newer hamburger story. There was no mention of the ham ...more
Desiree Koh
I could get traffic stopped by the food police for having a single unsavory thing to say about Josh Ozersky, but to my opinion I must be true.

This modern classic begins delightfully enough, tracing what Ozersky believes to be the hamburger's most authentic immigration into America and how it got big with the advent of post-World War II suburbization, automation, growth and automotization. He unleashes words and phrases to get drunk on - like "morphology" and "Babbittry" - but after several insta
Jun 27, 2011 xq rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
history AND food? nerdfoodie says yes!!

i really enjoyed this book, the author did an excellent job picking out interesting content and presenting it in an easy-to-follow, informative manner, weaving historical socioeconomics into the stories behind each of the big burger joints. sometimes the writing was a bit dramatic in that you wanted to be like, dude, this is a book about hamburgers, but it was kind of funny at the same time.
Mar 02, 2012 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
THE HAMBURGER. (2008). Josh Ozersky. ****.
The author is a food editor/online for “New York Magazine,” and a recognized food expert. He takes this opportunity to delve into the history of that American icon, the Hamburger. It’s no coincidence that this is one of the publications of the “Americn Icon” series sponsored by Yale University Press. The hamburger has its origins in a variety of mythical or fabulous sources – none of which can be confirmed with any accuracy. We do know that it became a
Although this book held a lot of the same information and themes as Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal I actually preferred reading this. I think that there was less of an apparent agenda and I loved the obscure references, since I am a fan of obscure references. The sarcastic, dry tone was also fitting with my own taste in nonfiction where Schlosser was just a bit angry and kind of on a high horse about the whole thing. Yes, this was less gritty, but it was more cultural ...more
Nov 23, 2011 Jeremy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food-cooking
My review is going to be somewhat biased because the hamburger is, unequivocally, my favorite food. This book is a fascinating chronicle of the history of the world's greatest sandwich, but even moreso it provides insight into the historical, political, social, and cultural factors that have made the hamburger the iconic American food. In short, the hamburger IS America-- all of our virtues and vices served on an enriched bun. The burger has gone from trash food, to kids' food, to evil product o ...more
Nov 10, 2008 Jocelyn rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who would finally like to know where the beef is.
Shelves: non-fiction, history, food
This book isn't so much the history of the burger as it is so much the history of fast food restaurants. The first chapter does focus on the creation of the hamburger (which was not invented in Hamburg; it's an American invention), the defining feature being that of the bun. A meatball between two slices of bread does not a hamburger make. The rest of the book follows the history of White Castle, McDonald's, and other household names of burger driven restaurants.

The book has some fantastic lines
Mar 21, 2012 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are many ways in which one could tell the story of the American hamburger. The perspectives of the historian, the anthropologist, the sociologist, the economist, the political scientist, the culinarian, and the environmentalist might well be employed. Josh Ozersky demonstrates fluency in all of these and writes a witty and entertaining story, as well. From White Castle ("buy 'em by the sack") to the fifty-dollar DB Royale of Daniel Boulud, the whole history is contained in this short (148 ...more
I wanted to like this more. I expected a little more in depth look at the hamburger, but this book came across as a Cliff Notes version. I was pretty disappointed.

It seems very superficial; a very basic look at how the hamburger came to be and its impact on the fast food industry and how it developed. I also thought the author would touch upon the other giants in the hamburger fast fast food industry--Burger King, Carl's Jr./Hardee's, etc. Or go into how the hamburger is made, although one can g
A rather short, light book about hamburgers. While the info on McDonald's is pretty much old hat to anyone who has any interest in business stories, the story of the invention of the hamburger, of the rise of White Castle and Bob's Big Boy, and other tidbits in the book are not exactly common knowledge.

The author does spend a whole lot of time griping about standardization, without really seeming to acknowledge that it was the only way to provide the giant leap in the standard of living that it
Jul 08, 2008 Jeremy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting look at the most iconic american food, the hamburger. A look at the burger ancestry, the mass production of hamburgers (thanks white castle), the perfection of mass production and franchising (thanks mcdonalds) and how our society came to love the burger. It was an interesting and quick read, however I found it a little silly when he uses words that an average person with a college degree needs a dictionary to understand.

also i love burgers so i probably rated this a little higher
May 15, 2010 Art rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a fan of the humble hamburger, I saw this new book and just had to read it. The author explains how the hamburger was developed and how it become such a staple in the American diet. The author is pretty particular in defining a hamburger. At the minimum, a hamburger consists of a ground beef pattie AND a bun! A lot of fun Americana in this book: White Castle, Big Boy, McDonald's, etc. Some real characters were involved in the creation and development of the hamburger industry. The author als ...more
You can't beat a book about the history of the hamburger that has lines like:

"To admit ground beef on toast as a hamburger is to make the idea of a 'hamburger' so loose, so abstract, so semiotically promiscuous as to have no meaning." (p. 18)

My only problem with this book was the end. After going into much depth about the hamburger's stewardship of the fast food revolution, Ozersky slaps together the rest of the story. The hamburger renaissance as nouvelle cuisine in the form of monstrosities l
Brad Seehawer
In typical Ozersky fashion, his assertion that the hamburger was invented when the beef patty was put between a bun was blindly opinionated and conveniently avoids contradictory historical claims about its origin... but I kind of agree with him. If we accept that a patty between two pieces of toast was a hamburger, then why wouldn't a Salisbury steak count as a proto-burger? Hamburgers need buns, and once you accept that, it makes sense to give the first hamburger to White Castle, as it easily d ...more
Amy Campbell
Oct 13, 2010 Amy Campbell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, read-2012
This is interesting quick read. It is just the right length any longer and I think it would have become uninteresting. It gives an interesting overview of hamburger through time starting with the different claims of who created moving on to how the big chains got started. It talks about what it meant to American society and what good and bad innovations it has brought about with it. A very good read.
Aug 31, 2013 Dan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure what I expected when I picked this up, but it wasn't a short treatise on the history of fast food joints and corporate America. Some of the history of the big names like White Castle, Big Boy, McDonald's and Burger King was interesting, and enough to keep me going to the end (it's only about 100 pages of text), but outside of that environment, the book pretty much ignores (other than a couple of short passages) hamburgers in other settings.
Nov 26, 2010 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nice, short (@133 pp of text)history of the burger and the chains that sell them. Ozersky tries to be a "cultural historian", but the more interesting facts of the burger chains takes over, thankfully. A lot of this is just a slimming down of more detailed works on McD's, White Castle, Burger King and Wendys.

Part of the excellent Yale U Press "Icons of America" series, the only one on food.

Nice quick read for foodies.
Jul 30, 2008 Ron rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, food, 2008
This really doesn't qualify in my opinion as a history of the hamburger, so much as it is a history of Hamburger Fast Food Restaurants. The first chapter covers the early history of hamburgers, but after that the book delves lightly on the history of White Castle, Big Boy, McDonalds, and Wendy's. OK, if that is what you want, but I don't consider it hamburger history.
Jun 26, 2015 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fairer to say a history of the fast food hamburger industry, Ozersky takes us through a whirlwind tour of the rise of the giants--White Castle (aka, patient zero) and the model they set that got picked up by McDonald's, emulated by Burger King, trashed by Wendy's. It's a fun ride to be had--Ozersky's wit and warmth will not disappoint.
Well this was a good history of how the fast food hamburger evolved in America. I thought that the information was helpful, but I felt like the author tried to write at a higher writing level than is necessary when you are writing about a patty of meat. This book has spurred an interest to read more about some of these business and cultural developments.
2.25 stars. Somewhat interesting history of the hamburger, if you can abide the overly pretentious writing (you're writing about burgers, mate). Also, about one-third of its entirety is about McDonalds. Perhaps something about that should have been added into the title. Missing some substantial burger-related material (I don't recall Red Robin even getting a name drop, for example.)
Lukas Lovas
Jul 25, 2016 Lukas Lovas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Pretty cool. I like knowing interesting stuff, and the history of this controversial food was quite fascinating to me. Short and to the point. I feel my understanding of the world has grown a bit again :)
Oct 24, 2011 Lori rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This may offend my vegan and vegetarian friends, but this book made me hungry for a hamburger. It was one of the books for my "Poetics and Politics of Food" class. It's a great read with historical and political references to an all-American food.
Jan 31, 2010 Scott rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting look at the history of hamburger in the U.S. I especially enjoyed the emphasis on the symbolic significance of the hamburger throughout time. It walked through some big hamburger moments. Mondale's "Where's the beef?" being one of them.
Aug 10, 2012 Gretchen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is little, so it can't go into a really comprehensive history, but the bibliography is outstanding and now I want to read a detailed history of McDonald's. And a book just like this, but about pizza instead.
Aug 01, 2008 Turi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: microhistory, foodie
This wasn't quite what I expected. I was hoping for more about the food; but what the book ended up being was a history of the hamburger industry. The author's voice didn't hit me quite right, either. Interesting, but didn't really grab me.
Nov 23, 2008 Sharon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone interested in food's affect on history
Recommended to Sharon by: Found it at the library.
The history of the hamburger and how it became such a part of American life.
He calls it an icon and traces how it came about.
He also tells a lot about the people who made it happen.

It's a pretty good read.
Mengfei Chen
Mar 08, 2016 Mengfei Chen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this short book on the iconography of the hamburger.
Ozersky is a great writer and this is a worthy topic. I just wanted a little more so it was only okay for me -- if you like his other work and/or the topic, I'd highly recommend it.
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