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The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning of Table Manners

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  380 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
This is the book on the way we eat.

Solidifying her standing as a preeminent observer and scholar of everyday life, Margaret Visser takes on the sweeping history of table manners, from the civilizations of ancient Greece and medieval Europe to the way that technology has altered, and continues to alter, our behaviour over dinner.

She writes of everything from cultural idiosy
Paperback, 466 pages
Published August 10th 2000 by HarperPerennial Canada (first published January 1st 1991)
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(showing 1-30)
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Rachel Smalter Hall
This is where I found out about exo- and endo- cannibals (one kind eats his enemies, the other kind eats his friends), and the French Fourteenths (did a dinner guest cancel leaving you with an unlucky thirteen guests? Call up a Fourteenth!), and so much more great cocktail party fodder. One of the more fascinating books I think I've ever read, backed by a convincing argument that we'd all eat each other given the chance.
Dec 23, 2008 Scot rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps a bit dated (first published in 1991), this sweeping overview of the history of table manners, across cultures and across time, nevertheless retains charm and insight. It catches your attention with an opening chapter on the cultural rules of cannibalism in the different societies that practiced it. This is followed by a chapter on how children and novitiates are socialized into correct etiquette in all cultures, and then the basic steps of all feasting or dinner gatherings are overviewe ...more
Dec 29, 2007 Tracey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Visser starts with cannibalism, and from there, follows the development of meals and their accoutrements, as well as the social behaviours that allow us to eat together. Visser writes with both detail and touches of humour, providing a very sound basis for exploring the topic further. An extensive notes & bibliography section is provided, as well as an index.

Overall, a wonderfully detailed look at how and why we eat, in terms of sociology & human relationships.

I read the majority of thi
Lisa Kelsey
Jun 26, 2009 Lisa Kelsey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating look at an endlessly fascinating subject (to me at least!): the origins of dinner table manners. One thing that I found particularly interesting as a mother is the comparison between etiquette and healthy eating. Here, Visser compared the French family table with the American: the American family will pressure kids to eat their vegetables "because it's healthy." French children are taught to sample a little bit of everything simply because that is what is polite. It seems to be mor ...more
Jul 07, 2013 Jill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food-literature
Visser's The Rituals of Dinner is definitely one of the most scholarly works I've read on food and eating. It is, quite simply, a sweeping survey of the rules and customs that govern our behaviour at the table - from why we have rituals and customs in the first place, the different rules that govern what we eat, when we eat, how we eat, with whom we eat, etc. It's challenging to give a sense of how broad the scope of Visser's book is; it's all in here - from cannibalism to chopsticks, carving (t ...more
May 26, 2015 Ruth rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dof-didnotfinish
Didn't make it past page 30 of this dull repetitive book.
Diana Sandberg
Mar 26, 2017 Diana Sandberg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I very much enjoyed Visser's previous book, "Much Depends on Dinner". This one is similar in its anecdotal delving into the minutiae of ordinary human preoccupations and behaviour. I heard Visser speak on the radio a few times, some years ago, and she was a charming and enthusiastic speaker; some of that infused the first book, somewhat less in this longer tome.

I found this one a bit overlong and somewhat disorganized. The latter chapters in particular gave something of an impression of having b
May 20, 2017 Amy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Extraordinarily detailed and comprehensive, but fairly difficult to draw memorable sections from. Overall it rather washed over me in a flood of chicken bones and spitting.
May 15, 2017 Lee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food
If you were looking for a book about the history and evolution of table manners, look no further! This is the book. A great read.
Oct 22, 2013 Netts rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is a wonderful wealth of information here about the evolution and rationale of table manners throughout history. For that I definitely recommend it. One particularly neat aspect being the frequent tidbits about the parallel evolution of linguistics, and idioms in particular. Though it offers a bit less on contemporary table manners and current differences around the world than one might expect.

But the book has some notable problems. I found the constant use of first person pronouns to mak
Amanda Freeman
From Netgalley for a Review:

I loved the idea of this book, the information presented is something that fascinates me...mixing gastronomy with anthropology and history, yes please! Sadly the more I read of this book the more I found myself skimming and wishing the author would just get to the point. It rambles on something fierce and is very repetitive, which is so disappointing because when the point is made it is interesting and enjoyable information. Ok not always enjoyable information, at tim
Wendi Manning
I love reading about customs and etiquette. I often spend hours online reading about them. I was so excited about this book because the rituals of dinner sounds like a fascinating topic.

It might have been if this book was a little more organized. It wandered all over the place and repeated things to the point of aggravation. Well, my aggravation anyway.

I struggled through it, and wished it was better. Great concept. Pretty dry execution.

I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an hone
May 15, 2015 Nada rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: r-ng
Table manner and rituals are a language that convey our culture and our upbringing. The Rituals of Dinner by Margaret Visser is a reference source for anyone looking to study the topic. If you have a general interest in the topic, you may find yourself skimming the book or looking for a different one. Should you choose to read it, you will never sit down to dinner quite the same way again.

Read my complete review at:

Reviewed based on a publisher’s galley r
Aug 23, 2008 Sskous rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
why do we eat the way we do? Margaret Visser's analysis of manners begins with the assumption, quite correct I think, that eating with others is a dangerous undertaking. After all, everyone is armed with a knife. Manners, born to tame the terror, become comforting and safe ritual. I often thought of Judith Martin's axiomatic motto: if everyone had good manners there'd be little need for ethicists. As an ethicist I found her pithy observation quite true. Here's to Margaret Visser and good manners ...more
May 18, 2015 Nancy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book contains hundreds of fascinating tidbits about how table manners evolved. It would make a wonderful talk, or provide the reader with dining-related anecdotes to last a lifetime.

It is a book filled with astounding detail and, however interesting the subject, that amount of fact eventually veers into the pedantic or scholary realm. It was fun to explore the subject, but perhaps enjoyed more in smaller doses.
Jun 15, 2015 Pamela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Rituals of Dinner is a fascinating study of the consuming of food and the manners accompanying eating. At times fun and interesting; at other times It read like a text book.

I can see myself returning to read this book in sections, but it's difficult to envision reading it in one sitting. If you enjoy history and anthropology, I believe you will enjoy The Rituals of Dinner.

ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley.
Dec 23, 2014 Lenore rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lenore by: no-one, I saw it on a shelf
This was very interesting. It follows a particular aspect through time and cultures, and then starts over with another concept, so there is some overlap. Another reason for overlap is that she finds it especially important, like that there's danger in gathering together to eat and that sharing a meal is about more than sustenance, so there are similarities and differences in how cultures deal with those things.
Alethea Bothwell
Apr 27, 2016 Alethea Bothwell rated it liked it
I do like Margaret Visser - she always finds something interesting (often profound) about the most ordinary things.
The one slight criticism is that sometimes she is repetitious - if a fact relates to different topics, it is mentioned under each topic. This is of course helpful if you are just browsing the book, but if you're reading straight through, it does get (do I repeat myself?) repetitious.
Jun 17, 2008 Maureen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Maureen by: CBC Radio
Once one knows what one is eating, what is the next logical step? To examine how one eats. That is the premise of this book, and although Visser's training may have been in Classics, she is really a cultural anthropologist. Beginning with cannabalism and forging ahead, she delineates why we use the utensils we use, where our manners came from, and many other topics along the way.
This was quite an interesting book, covering just about everything about dining habits. From the words we use to the food we eat, from the taboos we have about how to eat to the utensils we use, Ms. Visser explored it all. Her main emphasis was Europe and North America, but she wrote quite a bit about the East and Africa as well. Fascinating (but a bit long-winded).
Jun 18, 2015 Mandy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating and absorbing account of the codes that formalise our behaviour at the meal table. Table manners. Utensils. Rituals. Etiquette. The book is packed with detail, anecdote, trivia, references. I learnt so much about the whys and wherefores of eating. If only I could remember it all to impress family and friends around the dining table!
Polly Krize
Jun 18, 2015 Polly Krize rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Such an illuminating book! Filled with historical references to all aspects of dining and our rituals of behavior including table manners, hosting, using cutlery (or not). This book gives you a lot to talk about at the dinner table. Entertaining and informative, I highly recommend it!
Jul 23, 2011 Malcolm rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sociology
This historical anthropology of table manners is one of the most intriguing books on my shelf and provides marvellous insight into everyday practices and rituals. I doubt that anyone wouldn't find it interesting.
It was really slow moving, it jumped around and didn't have a plot line, and I couldn't get in to it. I got to page 200, so I did give it a try. Maybe I'm missing something, but it just wasn't that great.
Heather McLeod
Jan 28, 2017 Heather McLeod rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my favourite non-fiction book, and my favourite gift to present to food-loving friends. While reading, I couldn't stop myself from repeating fascinating bits of trivia to my friends and family.
Jan 30, 2017 Heather rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm usually pretty sparing with the bad reviews, but this book was so slow. While each individual tidbit about dining etiquette was interesting, it needed some serious editing. Or labeling as a textbook. Admittedly I skimmed towards the end.
May 19, 2012 Deborah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pithy, comes to mind. I spent a long time reading this book because I could only absorb it in small scetions. It was rich, much like eating truffles. A little bit goes a long way.

Originally picked this up for research. Stuck with it because it was engaging.
Anna Raquel
Dec 27, 2016 Anna Raquel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Exactly my kind of book. It takes one aspect of our lives and dissects it, comparing current beliefs and practices with other cultures and times. What I learned: culture is weird :)

What I didn't like: sometimes the author repeats herself and the ending was quite abrupt.
Aug 12, 2008 Linnaea marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
This has been on my to read list for at least a decade. I hope it lives up to my expectations. :-)
Amy Turner
A little more wordy and academic than what I was looking for, but some interesting information.
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Margaret Visser writes on the history, anthropology, and mythology of
everyday life. Her most recent book is The Gift of Thanks, published by HarperCollins. Her previous books, Much Depends on Dinner, The Rituals of Dinner, The Way We Are, and The Geometry of Love, have all been best sellers and have won major international awards, including the Glenfiddich Award for Foodbook of the Year in Britain
More about Margaret Visser...

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