Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways's Reviews > Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World

Banana by Dan Koeppel
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Dec 20, 11

Read in March, 2009

Rating: 3* of five

This is yet another entry in the single-subject world of non-fiction. The narrowness of focus in books such as Salt and Cod and The Book on the Bookshelf and The Pencil and Longitude seems to be an increasingly preevalent trend in publishing. I am all for it on one level, since I like delving into the abstruse and wallowing in details that leave most people I know colder than a penguin's butt in the middle of the Antarctic winter; but on another level, I want to stop these publishers before they bore again with books inadequately edited and organized.

There are three pieces to the banana...the history of humanity's first cultivated plant (modern evidence from New Guinea shows human cultivation from 9000 years ago was of bananas, but for their corms not the fingers we eat today); the politics of the modern cultivation of the banana (the term "banana republic", which I have used without thinking for 30+ years, has a very literal beginning and a scarily modern ring); and the future of humankind's most basic and widely distributed food crop (essential to survival in several parts of the world, the banana is also under threat from several pests that defy modern chemistry to abate, still less conquer, and squeamish food-o-phobes in wealthy countries oppose all modern genetic engineering that could save the survival crop of many parts of the world). These three strands are awkwardly interwoven, with no obvious guiding editorial hand to make sense of their interrelation.

It's a shame, too, because this is a huge, important topic, and the author's not inconsiderable talents are well-used in bringing the facts to light. The loss of our American favorite banana, the Cavendish, from grocery shelves will be an inconvenience at most; the fact that two major American corporations are, double-handedly (is that a word?), responsible for the spread of the blights that threaten the world crop with the complicity of the American government, should mean that we as a country are liable to find solutions to the pressing problems of food security in the places we've so screwed over. Free. But that won't happen, you can bet on that.

Back to the book...too much narrative drive is lost in the author's back-and-forth cross-cutting of the basic story. I wish someone had said, "Yo Dan...first third of the book is the banana as a plant; second third is the politics of the banana; last is the science of the plant." I wonder if that was what they tried, and the interconnections of all the information prevented its success? I somehow don't think so.

It's a good-enough book on an important topic that SHOULD cause each person who reads it some discomfort at our societal callousness and myopia. I recommend it to those most likely to be irritated by progressive politics and social liberalism. Isolationists particularly encouraged to apply!
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Wonderful review, sir, but I have so many of the classics to get through before I will have the luxury of devoting significant reading time to individual food stuffs. Your reviews will have to be my cliff notes.


message 2: by Lewis (new) - added it

Lewis Weinstein This is exactly the kind of book we need to read to make us aware of what we have done with our wealth and power.


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Stephen wrote: "Wonderful review, sir, but I have so many of the classics to get through before I will have the luxury of devoting significant reading time to individual food stuffs. Your reviews will have to be m..."

I suspect it's a more common situation than not. most people don't feel it's important enough, and those who do don't often have the time. it was ever thus in life...look how much unreading time you spent! so i will keep up the sherpa-ing, being uniquely gifted with time.


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Lew wrote: "This is exactly the kind of book we need to read to make us aware of what we have done with our wealth and power."

that's my idea, too. the verb to squander suggests itself, at least to me.


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