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Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  4,274 ratings  ·  498 reviews
A gripping biological detective story that uncovers the myth, mystery, and endangered fate of the world's most humble fruit

To most people, a banana is a banana: a simple yellow fruit. Americans eat more bananas than apples and oranges combined. In others parts of the world, bananas are what keep millions of people alive. But for all its ubiquity, the banana is surprising
Hardcover, 281 pages
Published January 1st 2008 by Hudson Street Press (first published December 27th 2007)
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Average rating 3.80  · 
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 ·  4,274 ratings  ·  498 reviews

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Will Byrnes
Mar 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Cruel enemies are stalking the world’s bananas and have been for decades. Who knew? Apparently Dan Koeppel. He has tracked not only the diseases that wiped out the every-day, Gros Michel, banana in the 1930s, but has an eye out for the Panama disease that is wiping out the Cavendish banana, that is, the one that we see today in every supermarket and fruit stand. There is yet another mortal enemy to the banana in the world, called Sigatoka. And the up and coming threat is from a disease called Bu ...more
Richard Derus
Dec 20, 2011 rated it liked it
Rating: 3* of five
2019 UPDATE Climate change bids fair to deprive us of a childhood icon, says this book.
One step closer to reality.

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 c
Sarah Jane
Do you ever get to the middle of a book and think to yourself, Why on earth am I reading this? I generally manage to avoid this feeling by choosing my reading material wisely, but this one managed to slip through somehow.

Bananas. Do I care? Sort of.

I found about half of this book to be incredibly interesting. The political implications of banana production, the fact that the banana as we know it may soon cease to exist altogether, a bit of banana history - these are the parts that managed to hol
Bananas on Bennies

I’m a big fan of “commodity histories” -- books on how everyday objects and products have become interwoven into our daily lives. It's odd that while many educated Americans know the year the Titanic sank, for example, scarcely any of them know the provenance of the items on their breakfast table – the coffee in their cup or the banana sliced onto their cornflakes. And this is a shame, really, for it’s quotidian details as much as major events that shape our lives.

It turns o
Tom LA
Jan 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Wow. This is a Feb 2019 update: I just read an article that confirms that the banana is at great risk. I thought the author of this book was trying to give a dramatic spin to his work, but apparently it’s all very serious! Here is the article:

I loved looking at history through banana-colored lenses. Dan Koeppel did a really nice work here. He did a lot of research, went around the world to interview experts, and managed to write a book that focuses on t
Sep 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-cooking
A review (with digressions) for people considering this as a book club choice

Avoiding responsibility, like lying, should be practiced even when not strictly necessary if one really wishes to stay at the top of one's game. Still, the inability to bi-locate leads to occasional and unavoidable assignment of responsibility in one's absence, like when the book club (while I was at work) recently assigned me to choose a book for the coming reading season. Perhaps my real error occurred days earlier, w
Mar 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
If you liked the book "Salt" you will probably find this book just as engrossing. There's more in here about corporate and pan-American politics than I expected on first hearing about the book, and I really enjoyed reading it. The reasons why bananas are threatened with global extinction despite being one of the most successful agricultural crops are fascinating, and chilling.

Koeppel does a great job of simplifying the science and getting right to the heart of the matter.

Aug 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food, non-fiction
[Random Read. 23, History.]

A fascinating look at the history of the banana, from its spread as a wild fruit across the globe to its cultivation and sale. If you've never thought about bananas before, this book will be a real eye-opener. Did you know that all bananas cultivated and sold by companies are sterile clones of each other? This is why they're so easily devastated by crop fungus such as Panama disease and Black Sigatoka, and also why it's so difficult to breed resistant bananas (they don
Mar 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is one of the most fascinating books I've read recently.

This book covers the history -- and future! -- of the humble banana. It starts with its beginnings in Asia, its geographic and evolutionary progressing, and the arrival of the banana to America.

Bananas are incredible: the popular ones have no seed, and reproduce asexually. Since they're all genetically identical, they are very susceptible to disease. In fact, today's banana (the Cavendish) wasn't the first popular banana in the US. Tha
Mar 01, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: food
This is a really disappointing book. It got lots of glowing reviews, but I was consistently frustrated by it. It is poorly written, sloppily researched, randomly organized, simplistically argued. The book's most egregious fault is that it hints at interesting and important ideas on the biological, political, economic, and social impact of the rise of the banana industry, but the author never bothers to develop these. There are lots of interesting tidbits and suggestive ideas, but they never amou ...more
Apr 29, 2015 rated it liked it
I read this because it was offered to me for three bucks, and I decided I was three bucks worth of interested in bananas. How interested in bananas are you? That is the central question. I feel like a review of this book is sort of unnecessary. It is about the cultivation and worldwide spread of bananas, the troubled history of big banana companies and the nasty things they did in Latin America, and the threats plaguing banana crops today.
Wanna know about bananas? Here you go.
Anna (Bananas)
Feb 19, 2014 marked it as to-read
Shelves: memoir, made-for-me
I really want to read this but $13.99 for an ebook about fruit? No.

That being said, the sample was fascinating. Bananas are cloned so that they can be grown seedless. And banana crops are in danger of dying out because they are cloned. What does this all mean for the future of human cloning? Oh the drama. I want more!
Oct 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012
Bananas have been coming up in my life a lot lately - I've decided they're the wonder food for biking. A guy at work has been sharing lots of banana factoids. So I'm predisposed to like reading about bananas.

And the first hundred pages or so were really interesting. I had no idea that before 1870, Americans didn't eat bananas at all. Then bananas exploded on the scene faster than Gangnam-style. United Fruits (Chiquita) and Standard Fruits (Dole) were ruthless robber barons that made the era of r
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first gave this attention thinking that it was about the delicious food that I've always enjoyed and that my wife, who is from the Philippines, must have at least one daily.
I got the story that I was expected on the botany/food level; but it was much more. It gave the story of corporate imperialism where countries and governments were conquered.
Sam Fisher
Mar 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Fisher, Sam
Mr. Ribay
English Honors, 8
Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World Review

Dan Koeppel’s Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World has incredible detail on the history and science of the banana but has significant issues with fluidity and focus.
The book follows the history of the banana with five general sections. The first section is on the banana’s origin in the Philippines and its movement around the world. The second section describes the banana rep
Jul 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
It is likely that sitting in a bowl on your kitchen table or sideboard is the fruit of the largest herb in the world - a banana.

Most bananas Western cultures eat today are yellow, sweet, ripen at a consistent rate, don't bruise easily. They are under threat from various 'banana blights' that are devastating plantations in Asia and Africa. At the time of the book's writing (2008), some diseases have not migrated to the Americas while others have already been here for decades. Not only of Panama
This was certainly an eye-opening look at the banana industry and the serious threats facing the innocuous golden breakfast supplement. I knew some of the history of the despicable tactics used by United Fruit from Stuff You Missed in History Class's episodes on the Guatamalan Revolution of 1954,
but not how much of the infrastructure of the country was based on banana and why the plan to redistribute unused land was such a threat to United Fruit's empire. As they said in their episodes,
the Mexic
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
I originally borrowed this audio book from the library so I had something to listen to during my commutes. At points, I wondered why on earth I was listening to an eight hour book on Bananas. However, I finished the entire book and have to say that I enjoyed it. It gave me an insight into the banana which is a common fruit worldwide - it made me have a better understanding of how difficult farming can be and why our foods are genetically modified. It was an eye opener into how our food system st ...more
Nov 26, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
This was like reading a freaking textbook. I had a hard time reading it. I pushed through, but then it said the f-word, so I stopped right there. I don't care THAT much about bananas. Don't read it unless you do. ...more
Aug 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
I was so disappointed with an earlier banana history book I read that I searched for a better one. This is it.
Feb 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This was a fascinating read, I'm always drawn to the history of things you may not think would be interesting or take for granted.

Life won't wait in line, bananas as much as any of us. Koeppel balances the history, the science, the sociopolitical with the real and the tangible...the pulp, the peel, the reasons and the rind.

I appreciated the human aspect, the victims of war (economic or otherwise) and those like Eli Black. The term 'banana republic' is not a put-on or a store in the mall. Some
Mar 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book was full of interesting facts about the history of the banana. Wow, is there ever a lot to learn about the banana! It's the 4th largest crop grown in the world, after wheat, rice and corn. The author claims it is the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden (translations in Hebrew and from the Koran). Banana boats - with their built-in cooling rooms to preserve the bananas - were the first Carribean cruise ships in the 1920s.
The most alarming thing I learned was that the type banana we no
Nov 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Never buying a Chiquita banana again.
Apr 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Dan Koeppel was driven to write this book after reading an article in a journal describing diseases that the banana is facing, such as Panama Disease, Bunchy Top and Black Sigatoka. Upon his world wide research quest, Koeppel discovers not only the banana empire’s ugly past but also a possibly more despairing future.
Did you know that Americans consume more bananas than apples and oranges combined? And that bananas are the world’s 4th leading crop behind wheat, corn and rice? And we pretty much e
Jul 19, 2008 rated it liked it
Koeppel's book is not bad, but it's also not great. I think the premise and the detail were well formed and Koeppel made the book incredible approachable and readable (although I loed Kurlansky's "Salt," it was no where near as readable or digestible). However, there were a few problems. First, the book is poorly organized. It jumped from topic to topic, would focus in on Koeppel himself, and in the last 1/5 of the book was nothing but setting the agenda for how GMOs aren't bad. Although Koeppel ...more
Dov Zeller
Dec 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
It's hard for me to understand people who, in their reviews, throw this book to the proverbial wolves. Some readers are disappointed that it's not narrative enough or doesn't go deep enough into the politics, and a lot of people seem frustrated with the way the book is organized. Perhaps it's not perfect, but this is clearly a thoughtfully researched, accessible and meaningful book, and one that illustrates unwaveringly and yet compassionately and without evangelical fervor, the dangers of our w ...more
Adam Wiggins
Jul 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Entertaining history of the banana's checkered past. Banana's are the world's #1 most popular fruit (far outstripping apples), and even more notable because they are all genetically identical (today: the Cavandish, prior to 1950, the Gros Michael). It's quite remarkable that bananas are cheaper than apples, considering that bananas are a highly perishable fruit that only grows in tropical regions and has to be shipped in at great speed in refrigerated vessels.

United Fruit and Standard Fruit (tod
Jul 31, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: foodies
This is a book about banana's. Just thought I would put that out there as I saw reviews by people that were upset that this book was about banana's. Guess they thought it was the latest Lee Child novel or perhaps a Harlequin romance novel (let your imagination run wild with that one). Being a father of four curtain climbers, and a large consumer of banana's, I found the book very interesting and easy to read. It was a lot of fun gathering strange facts about banana's (for instance the banana is ...more
Aug 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
Basically, bananas run the world. Who knew? I liked that the author was willing to keep things interesting even at the cost of uneven chapter lengths and sudden transitions. If a banana-related topic was veering into boring territory, he was not afraid to move on.

Good thing most banana-related topics are interesting! Also, I learned the following from this book, and I consider it to be the most mind-blowing fact I've learned from a book this year (at least):

"The Philippines also grow several clo
Aug 03, 2011 rated it it was ok
I absolutely loved the portions of the book which involved the banana's biological history and life as an organism. However, I found that parts of the book dragged for me personally. I really didn't find the "human interest" portions of the book to be related to the actual organism (of the banana) and I felt that the author digressed greatly from the actual topic. While the book was well-written (and while bits were fascinating!) I found myself just trying to get it done; I found the book to be ...more
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Dan Koeppel is a well-known outdoors, nature, and adventure writer who has written for the New York Times Magazine, Outside, Audubon, Popular Science, and National Geographic Adventure, where he is a contributing editor. Koeppel has also appeared on CNN and Good Morning America, and is a former commentator for Public Radio International's Marketplace. ...more

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