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Potato A History of the Propitious Esculent (Paperback)

Author:  John Reader
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Format: Paperback
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Product Details:

Format: Paperback
ISBN-10: 0300171455
ISBN-13: 9780300171457
Sku: 217622663
Publish Date: 3/1/2011
Pages:  315
See more in History
Previously published as: Propitious esculent.
From the Publisher:

The potato—humble, lumpy, bland, familiar—is a decidedly unglamorous staple of the dinner table. Or is it? John Reader’s narrative on the role of the potato in world history suggests we may be underestimating this remarkable tuber. From domestication in Peru 8,000 years ago to its status today as the world’s fourth largest food crop, the potato has played a starring—or at least supporting—role in many chapters of human history. In this witty and engaging book, Reader opens our eyes to the power of the potato.


Whether embraced as the solution to hunger or wielded as a weapon of exploitation, blamed for famine and death or recognized for spurring progress, the potato has often changed the course of human events. Reader focuses on sixteenth-century South America, where the indigenous potato enabled Spanish conquerors to feed thousands of conscripted native people; eighteenth-century Europe, where the nutrition-packed potato brought about a population explosion; and today’s global world, where the potato is an essential food source but also the world’s most chemically-dependent crop. Where potatoes have been adopted as a staple food, social change has always followed. It may be “just” a humble vegetable, John Reader shows, yet the history of the potato has been anything but dull.

In this delightful, learned, and somewhat freewheeling tour through history, John Reader focuses on the lowly plant, the potato--arguing that it has been central, on the periphery, or sometimes just there through a range of epochs up to modern times. He explores its role in civilizations as diverse as China, the Incas, and the French court, and finds many and diverse references to the tuber in records, histories, and popular lore. Of course, he discusses the complex causes and effects in mid-19th Century Ireland of the famous Potato Famine, and he ultimately convinces that from its origins in Peru to its modern day position as one of the top staples worldwide, the potato has been a crop of globalization and history.


"More often than not [the potato] has inspired careful--but let's face it, dull--scholarship. Yet Reader's enthusiasm has made the old analyses more palatable....He explores [the Irish Potato Famine] sensitively, applying political, agronomic and social analysis to vivify the tragic years of 1845 to 1849." - Gregory Dicum 05/31/2009

"Using the potato as guide, mantra, fetish and structuring device, John Reader serves up a potato-centric history of the world. And a delicious...dish it is." - Peter Behrens 06/07/2009

Product Attributes
Product attributeBook Format:   Paperback
Product attributeNumber of Pages:   0315
Product attributePublisher:   Yale University Press
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