Best read while eating hot, fresh, homemade bread.
The writing style is very dated - very Victorian, which, to be fair, H.E. Jacob was. Although, it’s Best read while eating hot, fresh, homemade bread.
The writing style is very dated - very Victorian, which, to be fair, H.E. Jacob was. Although, it’s hard to take seriously as a book of history at first when the opening section reads like a tale from Just So Stories, as the hypothetical family of first humans discover agricultural, with everyone playing their roles along antiquated gender lines.
The book makes a good argument that grains and breads were the founding cornerstone of many of the world’s religions. H. E. Jacob makes a good case that the Egyptian and Abrahamic religions are obsessed with wheat, bread and yeast, both literally and metaphorically.
I like his explication of the story of Joseph, citing him as a metaphor for wheat, thrown deep into the ground and then later flourishing and providing nourishment for those in need of food. I also like that he describes the storied Joseph as embarrassed by his family showing up. (Who, after all, according to Andrew Lloyd Webber, “spent all of their days in the fields with sheep.”)
The author shows how the different religions differently interpret the same god through bread: Yahweh views bread as a curse, Jehovah declares it a duty, and Allah delights in bread.
H. E. Jacob really doesn't think much of the Ancient Greeks; he’s of the opinion they just borrowed from others, and improved none of it, although they made quite an interesting little secret club out of a bread based religion. The Romans, however, took bread and made it political.
Romans invented modern bureaucracy – they tried to dress it up in religion they way the Egyptians had, but everyone knew it was a pretty hollow dumb show. They also, as they created their huge empire, invited artificial created famines, as they drew lines on maps, declared them the bread baskets of the empire, and beggared and starved regions, stripping them naked, Jacob says, to feed the elite and the poor of Rome. Rome invented the unemployment system and, astoundingly, made it a heredity right.
The empire, Jacob argues, provide a framework with lots of material goods, but failed to provide for people’s spiritual needs. Bread and circus, he argues, does not feed the soul, and, therefore, the masses of the empire were more than ready to listen to a religion that promised to feed that. Hence, a religion springing up and taking over, practically overnight, in relative terms, that was filled with food metaphors.
The empire overreached itself and fell, and so we come to the Dark Ages, where bread becomes a vital part of the feudal system, and Jacobs makes sure to paint the world as being at an extremely low point – today’s’ revisionist historians talk a lot about how the dark ages weren’t all that bad, how there was some progress, and even a few mini Renaissances – Jacobs compares the beauty of the classical world with the Middle Ages and makes a good case for the middle ages being damn near post-apocalyptic, complete with killer rodents and a fear of technology.
Time marches on, and bread becomes a very important player both in modern warfare and the industrial revolution. Bread was the star player of the French Revolution, and later, a deciding factor in the Napoleonic wars, the American Civil War, and World War One.
Jacobs points out that while Science becomes interested in how to improve bread from the Enlightenment onwards, emotions are still heavily tied to the commodity, as bread is used in the psychology of getting a population whipped up into a frenzy.
Jacobs very calmly examines the importance of bread in WWII, and only in the last two paragraphs of the book mentions, almost off hand, that bread – or rather, a lack of it – was a central fact of life in the concentration camp he survived.
He does not talk about the political or psychological or religious or whatever factors of the Halocaust – he says that the “bread” was “a mixture of potato flour, peas, and sawdust” and that he is thankful he lived to be able to eat real bread again. His real emotions don’t come out until the next page in the Acknowledgments when he thanks his wife for hiding the rough draft of his manuscript during the war, and says that without her, “the barbarians would have burned it”.
This is on of the main reasons why I always look askance at movies that deliberately film the Holocaust in black and white - color existed in this wor This is on of the main reasons why I always look askance at movies that deliberately film the Holocaust in black and white - color existed in this world long before Technicolor was invented....more