Joe's Reviews > Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World

Banana by Dan Koeppel
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's review

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. That was the Gros Michel, the Big Mike, which arrived around the 1870's. By the turn of the century, Panama disease was wiping out huge areas of banana farms. The companies decided that the best way to fight the disease (actually a fungus) was to stay ahead of it, by consuming huge amounts of new land -- and to do that, they used their money and political influence to get the US military to help them (thus explaining the term "Banana Republic"). The song "Yes, We Have No Bananas" is said to be a reference to the banana shortages caused by the disease.

Eventually -- around the 1950's -- banana producers switched over to the Cavendish. The taste was good enough (most say it wasn't quite as good, although a few disagree), it was shippable (but not quite as sturdy as the Big Mike), and most importantly, it was resistant to Panama disease. Something similar could happen today, and so the author talks about attempts to develop new types of bananas that could replace the Cavendish.

The book doesn't just talk about the banana in the US, it talks about its influence across the globe. In some parts of the world, people get 70% of the calories from the banana.

In short, this book exceeded my expectations spectacularly. I don't think it will have much re-read value, but it entertained me wonderfully this time.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
March 2, 2009 – Shelved
March 2, 2009 – Finished Reading

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