Nutrition and historical food books

These books about all things gastronomical offer plenty of food for thought

Propitious Esculent: The Potato in World History

John Reader,

William Heinemann, £18.99

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By now the 'Animal/Vegetable/Mineral That Changed the World’ format is a well-known construct for authors and publishers. This not the first book published about the spud’s place in history, yet Reader’s book is a good read. The book traces the tuber’s rise from its humble home in the South American altiplano to world vegetable-patch domination.

Reader has a breadth of knowledge in subjects as diverse as botany, anthropology, ecology, history and political sociology, so this book goes well beyond the scope of kitchen book. He writes cogently about the post-revolution potato famine of the nascent Soviet Union and about the manner in which science was sacrificed to political doctrine in both the Soviet Union and Mao-era China, resulting in the deaths of millions through famine.

Given the recent increase in food prices, this is a timely book, providing a much-needed perspective on an issue that will always be with us.

Susan Low, Time Out London Issue 1966: April 23-29 2008

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