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Near a Thousand Tables


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About the Author

Felipe Fern ndez-Armesto is a Professorial Fellow of Queen Mary, University of London, and a member of the Modern History Faculty at Oxford University. He is the author of thirteen books, including Millenium: A History of the Last Thousand Years and Civilizations: Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature.


Noted historian Fern ndez-Armesto (Millennium: A History of the Last Thousand Years) has undertaken to provide us with a brief alternative to volumes like Alan Davidson's The Oxford Companion to Food and The Cambridge World History of Food. He proposes to "treat food history as a theme of world historyto trace connections, at every stage, between the food of the past and the way we eat today." To cover this vast topic in a brief volume, the author has divided the subject into eight revolutions that range from the invention of cooking to industrialization in the 19th and 20th centuries. This approach works well within each chapter but makes it difficult for the reader to put the events from different "revolutions" in order. Throughout the book, Fern ndez-Armesto makes no secret of his opinions and presents several surprising but well-supported arguments, such as microwave ovens are returning us to a presocial phase of evolution and "cannibals turn out to have a lot in common with vegans." His well-written, thought-provoking overview of food history is recommended for academic or special libraries where there is interest in food history. Mary Russell, New Hampshire State Lib., Concord Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

For sheer volume of fascinating facts, this survey of gastronomic lore can't be beat. Fernyndez-Armesto (Millennium), a Professional Fellow at the University of London and member of the modern history faculty at Oxford, debunks popular myths, such as the idea that spices were needed in medieval times to disguise tainted meat and fish (in fact, fresh foods in the middle ages were fresher than today and healthier as well). He shows why the cultivation of rye, barley and wheat is one of the most spectacular achievements of humankind and informs readers that the whole grain cracker invented by Sylvester Graham was intended to impede sexual desire and promote abstinence. But the book is more then a litany of quirky tidbits; Fernyndez-Armesto charts how the evolution of human culture is directly connected to the way food is obtained. The logistics of agriculture and hunting have shaped notions of gender and community; food is often integral to concepts of the sacred in a society; and the loneliness of the fast food eater aided by such inventions as the microwave has become emblematic of contemporary society's fragmentation. Fernyndez-Armesto writes lucidly and conveys his enormous enthusiasm for his subject. While he draws upon the work of many historians and theorists including Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Claude LEvi-Strauss and Ferdinand Braudel his erudite analysis always engaging and accessible. (June) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

The New York Times Highly provocative and erudite and surprising book with many eye-opening pleasures.
Rob Morse San Francisco Chronicle Fern ndez-Armesto picks apart the myths of food history with the delectation of a connoisseur picking apart a lobster.
Betty Fussell The New York Times Book Review Fern ndez-Armesto brings a humanity, civility, and excitement to serious food writing that may not have been seen since Brillat-Savarin.

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