In the mid-1860s, grapevines in southeastern France inexplicably began to wither and die. Jules-Émile Planchon, a botanist from Montpellier, was sent to investigate. He discovered that the vine roots were covered in microscopic yellow insects. What they were and where they had come from was a mystery. The infestation advanced with the relentlessness of an invading army and within a few years had spread across Europe, from Portugal to the Crimea. The wine industry was on the brink of disaster. The French government offered a prize of three hundred thousand gold francs for a remedy. Planchon believed he had the answer and set out to prove it. Gripping and intoxicating, The Botanist and the Vintner brings to life one of the most significant, though little-known, events in the history of wine.
In 1784, passengers on the ship Empress of China became the first Americans to land in China, and the first to eat Chinese food. Today there are over 40,000 Chinese restaurants across the United States. Now, in Chop Suey Andrew Coe provides some history of the American infatuation with Chinese food, telling its fascinating story for the first time. It's a tale that moves from curiosity to disgust and then desire. From China, Coe's story travels to the American West, where Chinese immigrants drawn by the 1848 Gold Rush struggled against racism and culinary prejudice but still established restaurants and farms and imported an array of Asian ingredients. He traces the Chinese migration to the East Coast, highlighting that crucial moment when New York "Bohemians" discovered Chinese cuisine--and for better or worse, chop suey. Along the way, Coe shows how the peasant food of an obscure part of China came to dominate Chinese-American restaurants; unravels the truth of chop suey's origins; reveals why American Jews fell in love with egg rolls and chow mein; shows how President Nixon's 1972 trip to China opened our palates to a new range of cuisine; and explains why we still can't get dishes like those served in Beijing or Shanghai. The book also explores how American tastes have been shaped by our relationship with the outside world, and how we've relentlessly changed foreign foods to adapt to them our own deep-down conservative culinary preferences. Andrew Coe's Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States is a fascinating tour of America's centuries-long appetite for Chinese food. Always illuminating, often exploding long-held culinary myths, this book opens a new window into defining what is American cuisine.
The Little Ice Age tells the fascinating story of the turbulent, unpredictable, and often very cold years of modern European history. Using sources ranging from the dates of long-ago wine harvests and the business records of medieval monasteries to modern chemical analysis of ice cores, renowned archaeologist Brian Fagan reveals how a 500-year cold snap began in the fourteenth century. As Fagan shows, the increasingly cold and stormy weather dramatically altered fishing and farming practices, and it shaped familiar events, from Norse exploration to the settlement of North America, from the French Revolution to the Irish potato famine to the Industrial Revolution. Now updated with a new preface discussing the latest historical climate research, The Little Ice Age offers deeply important context for understanding today's age of global warming. As the Little Ice Age shows, climate change does not come in gentle, easy stages, and its influence on human life is profound.
In this history of fishing—not as sport but as sustenance—archaeologist and best-selling author Brian Fagan argues that fishing was an indispensable and often overlooked element in the growth of civilization. It sustainably provided enough food to allow cities, nations, and empires to grow, but it did so with a different emphasis. Where agriculture encouraged stability, fishing demanded movement. It frequently required a search for new and better fishing grounds; its technologies, centered on boats, facilitated movement and discovery; and fish themselves, when dried and salted, were the ideal food—lightweight, nutritious, and long-lasting—for traders, travelers, and conquering armies. This history of the long interaction of humans and seafood tours archaeological sites worldwide to show readers how fishing fed human settlement, rising social complexity, the development of cities, and ultimately the modern world.
In search of a mysterious wine he once tasted in a hotel room minibar, journalist Kevin Begos travels along the original wine routes—from the Caucasus Mountains, where wine grapes were first domesticated eight thousand years ago, crossing the Mediterranean to Europe, and then America—and unearths a whole world of forgotten grapes, each with distinctive tastes and aromas. We meet the scientists who are decoding the DNA of wine grapes, and the historians who are searching for ancient vineyards and the flavors cultivated there. Begos discovers wines that go far beyond the bottles of Chardonnay and Merlot found in most stores and restaurants, and he offers suggestions for wines that are at once ancient and new.
The Middle Ages re-created through the cast of pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales. Among the surviving records of fourteenth-century England, Geoffrey Chaucer’s poetry is the most vivid. Chaucer wrote about everyday people outside the walls of the English court—men and women who spent days at the pedal of a loom, or maintaining the ledgers of an estate, or on the high seas. In Chaucer’s People, Liza Picard transforms The Canterbury Tales into a masterful guide for a gloriously detailed tour of medieval England, from the mills and farms of a manor house to the lending houses and Inns of Court in London. [more inside]
On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who? [more inside]
In his fifth work of nonfiction, Mark Kurlansky turns his attention to a common household item with a long and intriguing history: salt. The only rock we eat, salt has shaped civilization from the very beginning, and its story is a glittering, often surprising part of the history of humankind. A substance so valuable it served as currency, salt has influenced the establishment of trade routes and cities, provoked and financed wars, secured empires, and inspired revolutions. Populated by colorful characters and filled with an unending series of fascinating details, Salt is a supremely entertaining, multi-layered masterpiece.
In this fascinating exploration of murder in the nineteenth century, Judith Flanders examines some of the most gripping cases that captivated the Victorians and gave rise to the first detective fiction Murder in Britain in the nineteenth century was rare. But murder as sensation and entertainment became ubiquitous, transformed into novels, into broadsides and ballads, into theatre and melodrama and opera―even into puppet shows and performing dog-acts. Detective fiction and England's new police force developed in parallel, each imitating the other―the pioneers of Scotland Yard gave rise to Dickens's Inspector Bucket, the first fictional police detective, who in turn influenced Sherlock Holmes and, ultimately, even P.D. James and Patricia Cornwell. [more inside]
The definitive edition of the classic, myth-shattering history of the American family Leave It to Beaver was not a documentary, a man's home has never been his castle, the "male breadwinner marriage" is the least traditional family in history, and rape and sexual assault were far higher in the 1970s than they are today. In The Way We Never Were, acclaimed historian Stephanie Coontz examines two centuries of the American family, sweeping away misconceptions about the past that cloud current debates about domestic life. The 1950s do not present a workable model of how to conduct our personal lives today, Coontz argues, and neither does any other era from our cultural past. [more inside]
In SPQR, an instant classic, Mary Beard narrates the history of Rome "with passion and without technical jargon" and demonstrates how "a slightly shabby Iron Age village" rose to become the "undisputed hegemon of the Mediterranean" (Wall Street Journal). Hailed by critics as animating "the grand sweep and the intimate details that bring the distant past vividly to life" (Economist) in a way that makes "your hair stand on end" (Christian Science Monitor) and spanning nearly a thousand years of history, this "highly informative, highly readable" (Dallas Morning News) work examines not just how we think of ancient Rome but challenges the comfortable historical perspectives that have existed for centuries. With its nuanced attention to class, democratic struggles, and the lives of entire groups of people omitted from the historical narrative for centuries, SPQR will to shape our view of Roman history for decades to come.
A sweeping new history of how climate change and disease helped bring down the Roman Empire Here is the monumental retelling of one of the most consequential chapters of human history: the fall of the Roman Empire. The Fate of Rome is the first book to examine the catastrophic role that climate change and infectious diseases played in the collapse of Rome's power, a story of nature's triumph over human ambition. Interweaving a grand historical narrative with cutting-edge climate science and genetic discoveries, Kyle Harper traces how the fate of Rome was decided not just by emperors, soldiers, and barbarians but also by volcanic eruptions, solar cycles, climate instability, and devastating viruses and bacteria. [more inside]
Alexievich chronicles the experiences of the Soviet women who fought on the front lines, on the home front, and in the occupied territories. These women—more than a million in total—were nurses and doctors, pilots, tank drivers, machine-gunners, and snipers. They battled alongside men, and yet, after the victory, their efforts and sacrifices were forgotten. Alexievich traveled thousands of miles and visited more than a hundred towns to record these women’s stories. Together, this symphony of voices reveals a different aspect of the war—the everyday details of life in combat left out of the official histories. [more inside]
In 1918, the Italian-Americans of New York, the Yupik of Alaska and the Persians of Mashed had almost nothing in common except for a virus--one that triggered the worst pandemic of modern times and had a decisive effect on the history of the twentieth century. The Spanish flu of 1918-1920 was one of the greatest human disasters of all time. It infected a third of the people on Earth--from the poorest immigrants of New York City to the king of Spain, Franz Kafka, Mahatma Gandhi and Woodrow Wilson. But despite a death toll of between 50 and 100 million people, it exists in our memory as an afterthought to World War I. [more inside]