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Object Lessons is a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things.

Bread is an object that is always in process of becoming something flower to grain, grain to dough, dough to loaf, loaf to crumb. Bread is also often a figure or vehicle of social from the homely image of “breaking bread together” to the mysteries of the Eucharist. But bread also commonly figures in social conflict - sometimes literally, in the “bread riots” that punctuate European history, and sometimes figuratively, in the ways bread operates as ethnic, religious or class signifier. Drawing on a wide range of sources, from the scriptures to modern pop culture, Bread tells the story of how this ancient and everyday object serves as a symbol for both social communion and social exclusion.

Object Lessons is published in partnership with an essay series in The Atlantic.

168 pages, Paperback

First published June 2, 2016

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Scott Cutler Shershow

8 books2 followers

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Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews
Profile Image for Deborah Harkness.
Author 54 books28.5k followers
July 16, 2020
If, like me, you have been baking bread during recent months, treat yourself to Scott Shershow's BREAD. It's a brief, beautiful read about the history, science, alchemy, and the sheer comfort of baking. Like a good loaf, you will gobble it up with pleasure. A note about BREAD: this isn't a recipe book or baking manual. It's an examination of what bread means to us and how that's changed. It's a thoughtful reflection on bread--(imagine if a loaf of sourdough could write a beautiful memoir...).
Profile Image for Jennie.
646 reviews2 followers
November 26, 2017
Qu'ils mangent de la brioche! said Marie-Antionette.

Yup, let them eat BREAD. How did we get cake out of that?!

With the opening a quote from my favourite person ever, David Bowie, I rose to the occasion.

Packed full of facts, great narrative and differences of opinion on the benefit or detriment of bread, it is all fascinating regardless.

You might buy bread; good bread.

Soon to be part of my library.

Must read!
Profile Image for Frank.
63 reviews3 followers
December 12, 2019
My first time reading an object lessons book and this one did a good job of being just brief enough to enjoy and get some good information from. I especially liked the way the author contextualizes the idea of bread at the beginning
Profile Image for Margaret Sankey.
Author 9 books203 followers
September 1, 2016
Although I have enjoyed other books in this series, having a "leading deconstructionist" reflect on bread results not in cogent or thoughtful insights, but in meandering and pretentious asides. There are a few highlights--the social status markers of medieval bread, the early 20th century struggle to sanitize a product that relies on contamination by yeast, and the politics of gluten-free policy. Not really food history, not really social history, the Reaktion books did this better.
Profile Image for Joseph Spuckler.
1,509 reviews21 followers
October 8, 2020
Bread by Scott Cutler Shershow is another in the Bloomsbury Academic series. Shershow is a professor of English at UC Davis. His MA and Ph.D. are both from Harvard University,

Bread is a simple thing. It is taken for granted. It is also mentioned in the most known Christian prayer and came down from heaven to feed the fleeing Israelites. The debate between bread and beer linger on as to what actually lead man to settle in cities and cultivate the land. Shershow reminds the reader that early beer and bread did have much in common. Bread not only sustained early civilizations but it also sustains many of us who carry sandwiches to school or work. In fast food, Subway ranks 2nd in the nation between McDonald's and Starbucks. Panera Bread and Jimmy Johns are in the top 25 fast food restaurants.

Shershow tells the reader about the simple magic of making bread and includes a few pieces of wisdom from food guru, Michael Pollan. Bread is a creation. It takes time and effort. Even more so if one uses their own living starter. There are many types of bread and many of them associated with class. The whitest of the white flour was reserved for the rich. The famous quote "Let them eat cake." is mistranslated. The French word was "brioche." Brioche is a white bread fortified with butter and eggs, not really cake at all. Heavy wheat breads were for the poor. These breads were even stretched farther in bad times with additives and even sand.

Bread takes a look at the historical health aspects of bread from the modern gluten-free craze, the paleo diet, and earlier to the chemical leavenings instead of unhealthy yeast. The discussion also includes the religious aspects of bread from the unleavened ,to the last supper, and the miracle of the loaves and fish. Bread has played a central role in the West. In bad times there were bread lines in good there are artisan breads. Even Wal-Mart has jumped on the bandwagon of hot, fresh baked bread in their stores. Bread has rebounded from ever challenge modern society has thrown at it. It outlasted the Atkins diet and will probably be around as long as man walks the earth. A nicely written tribute to an underappreciated food.
Profile Image for Carrie.
1,138 reviews1 follower
March 23, 2017
Another interesting book in the Object Lessons series. There is a world of meaning in something as ordinary as bread and Shershow uses both his love and knowledge of baking (and eating) it and his philosophical ruminations of its history to give new meaning to a commonplace item. He writes: "What captivates me most is not so much bread as a product, nor even an idea, but as a process and an experience." 2 For example, what does it mean to break bread with someone? The word "companion" derives from the Latin "with bread" (11) .... "the simple act of eating or making bread finally links us to all those who have been or are deprived of it" Then there is bread as a reflection of social classes (white bread being the most elite -- and 14 different types of bread reflecting the social strata of pre-Revolutionary France. There is the concept of the "bread line" -- what has come to denote free handouts after historical periods that sought to provide people with the most basic of needs. He also looks at our current distrust of bread in our gluten-free, Atkins attitudes, (Bread Dread) but how that actually might be more harmful to humans as a species as we eschew basic sustenance. What about daily bread? " ... bread as object and idea so often locates itself 'at the crossroads between the material and the symbolic' so that it always 'forges complex links between the sacred and the profane.'" (124) And finally he explores the idea of bread as a living thing -- complete with the micro-organisms in yeast that give it life. "Perhaps this is why bread, as object or idea, is so often experienced as somehow sacred or magical or miraculous: because we simply cannot help but taste in it, day by day by day the explosive promise of the plural, the exhilarating undecidability of more." (131) Thought-provoking and eye-opening.
Profile Image for Jesi.
255 reviews3 followers
March 7, 2019
A deep dive (albeit brief) into bread, this little book touches on the history, philosophy, theology, sociology, and biology of our most basic food. Treats include a discourse on bread as "alien;" a meditation on the murky ethics of enlisting living creatures to make dough; a fresh look at the meaning of "give us this day our daily bread;" and a gentle critique of gluten-free mania. This was extremely My Jam.

My one critique is that there were a surprising number of typos in the text-- makes me think the editing of this series was a little rushed.
Profile Image for Laura Hoffman Brauman.
2,549 reviews34 followers
November 7, 2017
2.5 stars. I enjoy the Object Lessons series where authors write essentially a long form essay around a specific topic or concept. Bread leaned a little too heavily into the philosophy and etymology for me. I did find the portions on baking, agriculture, religion, and revolution very interesting, though.
Profile Image for Lauryn Oviedo.
14 reviews
May 8, 2019
I think the authors shoot a decent shot at looking at bread through a philosophical view and its extended meanings and interpretations in different cultures and sub-cultures across the world. Makes you think about bread just being food.
Profile Image for Mandy.
3,151 reviews266 followers
October 16, 2016
Another welcome addition to the ever-fascinating Object Lessons series, books that look at the ordinary and everyday things that surround us and which invariably turn out to be not so ordinary after all. Scott Cutler Shershow turns his attention in this volume to bread, that staple of everyday life, and in this intriguing and thought-provoking study looks at the importance, significance, symbolism and historical place of bread throughout the ages. Informative, interesting and a joy to read.
Profile Image for Eileen Hall.
1,074 reviews
August 4, 2016
A very informative book on the history of bread making, including the significance of this staple food in religious and ethnic practices.
I was given a digital copy of this book by the publisher Bloomsbury Academic via Netgalley in return for an honest unbiased review.
Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews

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