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Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon

(Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books)

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  93 ratings  ·  30 reviews
New in paperbackWhile many cultures eat pumpkin year round, North Americans reserve it for a set of beloved autumn rituals that celebrate the harvest season and the rural past. In a fascinating cultural and natural history, "Pumpkin" shows how Americans have used the pumpkin to connect with nature and our agrarian roots--and, ironically, how this process has revitalized sm ...more
Paperback, 323 pages
Published August 1st 2013 by University of Washington Press (first published October 1st 2012)
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Average rating 3.59  · 
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I did not enjoy this book.
If you'd like to know why, read on. I have a lot of complaining to do.

One of my huge pet peeves about non-fiction work is lack of listed resources. This was one of two ways in which this book did not let me down; Ms. Ott has copious pages of notes and a long bibliography at the end, so that was nice.
Also, I always hope to learn something from every non-fiction book I read. In this case, I learned how Libby, the canned pumpkin company, processes and cans pumpkin meat. I
Sep 24, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Count me in the group of those utterly obsessed with the autumn season and everything that comes with it: all things harvest, Halloween, apples, pumpkin everything, cinnamon spices, corn mazes, hay rides, and the world in tones of oranges, yellows, and reds. Even my birthday is in October! Everything about this time of year and culture is appealing to me and brings an endless smile to my face. How did pumpkins get to become the spokes figure for the season, though? What is the history of this or ...more
Apr 18, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food-and-drink
Like some of the other reviewers of this book, I am an October-born, fall-loving mofo, so of course when I saw this book in the bargain bin at one Barnes & Noble, I snatched it up. My autumnal tastes lean more towards apples than pumpkins (and even my squash preferences point to the butternut), but I do love me some pumpkin pie! Plus, as far as micro-histories go, this one sounded like it could be fun.

Reader, it wasn't. I don't want to say this book sucked. I mean, I don't think it did. But it w
Oct 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
I wanted to love this book, but am so disappointed in it! I stumbled upon this book while selecting fall/Halloween/Thanksgiving picture books for read aloud time with my three sons and was SUPER pumped to learn about the "curious history of an American Icon", but I read the entire 198 pages just hoping it would actually get good! (The physical book is 323 pages, but the content stops at 198 and the rest is just notes and bibliography.) I LOVE all things fall and while I love doing the read aloud ...more
Mark Hartzer
Oct 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was something of a missed opportunity. Like some of the other reviewers, I really wanted to love this book, but couldn't. While it shows as more than 325 pages long, more than 100 of those pages are footnotes. It is quite obvious that this is a dissertation turned into a book. Best recipe for pumpkin pie? Not in here. Best pumpkins to plant for the home gardener? Nope, nothing. When to plant or how to plant? Silence.

While the last chapter makes a valiant attempt to make pumpkins releva
Oct 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food-books
Wonderfully-eclectic research that marries the cultural history of the pumpkin with the material history of farming across over three centuries. It's engaging and fun and really smart, especially well-versed in the literature of American studies and environmental history in the introduction. At times, some of the intellectual leaps and interpretations of particular poems and paintings could use a bit more explanation, but it's an excellent book that advances the field of environmental history. ...more
This book was so terrible, I couldn't get much farther than 50 pages in. It meanders, it contradicts itself with how it wants to refer to it's main topic and is so dryly academic that it makes itself darn near unintelligible. I'm usually pretty stubborn about giving books a proper chance and finishing them but this was one honestly not worth my time. ...more
Laura  Baisas
Aug 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Awesome history of not only the pumpkin itself, but our cultural ties to it. Great analysis of the feelings of nostalgia and homespun goodness every fall. Made me appreciate pumpkin farmers and brought back great memories. Anyone who gets half as excited as me when pumpkin coffee and soup starts to be served will love this book!
Julie Harris
Oct 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book started out slowly but it was filled with lots of interesting history and factoids... Kind of dragged on at the end but also, the question still persists- where does our love affair for the pumpkin come from?
Michael Howley
Dec 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library
This was the best book about a single type of plant I've ever read. To hell with people who leave 3,000 word one-star reviews on a book about a fruit that's functionally a vegetable. Go outside nerds. ...more
Robin Arnold
Dec 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Everything you need to know about pumpkins. The print is very small is my only complaint but it will stay on my shelf. This book was a gift from my friend Sally.
Paul Manoguerra
Oct 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Good American Studies material culture book.
Nicholas Vela
Jan 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
An interesting book that pulls environmental and cultural history into one. The book is easy and enjoyable to read.
Sep 19, 2013 added it
Shelves: homework
Yet another PhD dissertation packaged with pretty cover and marketed to the masses...apparently it's a thing, and I keep buying them. I got this for the bibliography, but it was a good read. It even answered a few nagging questions ("WHY can't I get canned pumpkin in Australia? And why don't they distinguish between pumpkins and squashes? And why don't they understand that I can't make a pie out of that thing because it is not orange?"). I have investigated squash origins and always been frustra ...more
Jul 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
I received Pumpkin as part of a Goodreads giveaway.

Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon tells the story of, well, the pumpkin, more specifically the cultural status it has achieved in American society. Beginning with the cultivation of gourds tens of thousands of years ago by Native Americans and concluding with modern connotations, Ott's book makes for a fascinating profile of this odd but beloved fruit.

I find food history fascinating, so Pumpkin was a perfect fit for me. The book r
Oct 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I won this book in a goodreads giveaway.
An impressive thoroughly researched book! Cindy Ott definitely connects the pumpkin to its many different aspects of its symbolism, tracing back the fruit to its origin. Well worth a read if you have an interest in history of the US and the many different faces of the pumpkin. From the term "pumpkin head" to cattle fodder to the age old purity of the family outing to the pumpkin patch, Ott includes it all while pointing out the discrepancies and consistenc
Nov 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
During the reading of this book, I picked gourds at a farm, drank pumpkin spice lattes, purchased pumpkin cereal bars, received a pumpkin from a friend's garden, purchased carving pumpkins from Smart and Final, bought pumpkin chai mix, received a pie pumpkin from Trader Joe's, carved jack-o'-lanterns, drank 4 different types of pumpkin beer and a pumpkin cider, made pumpkin pasties, and saw countless pumpkin icons in the lead-up to Halloween. Cindy Ott describes the history of pumpkins as an Ame ...more
Megan Kloustin
I love pumpkin food, and that's honestly why I read this book in the first place. It seemed like it would be interesting, but really, I would've been perfectly happy with a Cliffs Notes version - there was an ENORMOUS amount of information about pumpkins, and sadly, I had to make myself get through it. The writing was quite dry. If you want to skip the long-form, check out my "quick facts" and my favorite recipe for Pumpkin Pie on The Hungry Bookworm: ...more
James Chally
Oct 27, 2020 rated it liked it
If ever there was a book I wanted to give five stars before I even opened the cover this was it: an entire book dedicated to the history of the pumpkin! How could this not be five stars? Sadly this is not a five star book, but it was very informative on the history of this magnificent fruit. If passing a pumpkin field doesn’t fill you with nostalgic glee this book is probably not going to sway you, but If you are already obsessed with squash as I am than this is a book you should not miss.
Oct 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: goodreads-wins
I recieved this book from the goodreads firstreads giveaway. This is an very interesting book about the history of pumpkins in america. I found out that there is a lot of things that I didn't know about pumpkins. It was a pleasure to learn more about the history of pumpkins, and I look forward to reading more by this author. I would recommend this book to anyone. ...more
Judith Summers
Nov 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating look at an object that we Americans indulge in affectionately a couple of important times each year. As “yea, but why?” questions arise during reading, Ott continually offers entertaining and insightful answers. The journey is fun, surprising, and, ultimately, important, as it helps us to see “food” in new and interesting ways.

Gina Enk
Dec 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is such an interesting and well researched book about a food we know so well, yet rarely eat. Ott has an engaging tone and draws readers into her subject matter with illustrations and photographs throughout the book as well as clear prose that guides the reader from Colonial times to the present day.
Sep 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
I found the interweaving of America's social-economic history and the natural history of a Native American plant to be very interesting. Pumpkins have run the gamut from salvation for the settler, to prejudiced backlash from industrialization & commerce, to a beloved fixture in the fall for decorative fixtures as well as pie. Who knew that the pumpkin"s cultural history was so varied? ...more
Sep 25, 2012 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Who would of thought someone would write about pumpkins! But after reading the synopsis, I am truely intrigued to read this book. It's amazing how the right words can attract your attention to a pumpkin. Have high hopes to win this book to learn more! ...more
bibliotekker Holman
Sep 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
An engaging and well researched study of the meanings and uses of the pumpkin throughout American history. She illustrates how the pumpkin and its symbology infuse American life, art and thought. As an avid pumpkin grower, I now see them in a new and more complex light.
Oct 03, 2012 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Cindy Ott is both brillant and funny. She can make the most mundane topic riveting. However, since we all know that the pumpkin is far from mundane, this should prove to be a great read!
Elisabeth Jewell
Dry. Like many other reviewers have noted, it read like a dissertation.
Judy Leise
Nov 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this! Checking it out. It's worth the read. ...more
Jun 24, 2013 added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: motw
Read by ACRL Member of the Week Betsy Wilson. Learn more about Betsy on the ACRL Insider blog. ...more
Oct 12, 2013 rated it liked it
A pretty interesting read, though it started out slow. I thought there would be more about how ridiculous people get about Pumpkin Spice everything, but not really.
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“As a sign of human nature, the pumpkin embodied unbounded lust or lack of civility; as a symbol of a place, it represented the untamed natural bounties of North America; and as an emblem of a way of life, it stood for a rustic peasant existence.” 0 likes
“Along with being one of earliest sources for the pumpkin's linguistic heritage, the ancient Romans established the use of the pumpkin as an astonishingly consistent comical motif for the politician.” 0 likes
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