Potato by Rebecca Earle

*I did receive a digital version of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.*

    Sometimes there is much more than meets the eye with everyday objects that have become mundane to the point that we never really examine or think about them. Bloomsbury Academic’s series Object Lessons is on its way to addressing that issue and Rebecca Earle’s Potato does a fine job of critically looking at the potato. From its global importance as an important food crop to sustaining an ever increasing population to its role and use in changing political philosophy from earlier centuries, this book covers many interesting facets and nuances of the history of potatoes that are easily overlooked.

    Due to the nature of the book, the structure is a little disjointed as there isn’t much of a coherent line of narrative weaving the book together. The topics jump around quite a bit, even within chapters. Some of the topics covered also seemed a little out of place or only tangentially related to potatoes, such as some the fine art dealing with potatoes. While it wasn’t a problem per se, I felt that it did take away time and space a little bit from the other topics leaving less room for some of the more important aspects of the potato.. However, overall, Ia am glad that some of the cultural aspects of the potato were included.
    Part of the reason I decided to read this book is that the area I live in is known for its potatoes (pretty much one of the only things its known for) and potatoes are everywhere. I live almost within sight of a potato field and have worked for farmers that grew potatoes as a teenager. This book definitely has allowed me to look at these potatoes in a new light with a rich cultural and historical background. The book does cover some history of the potato from its original cultivation in the new world to its transmission to Europe and beyond during the Columbian Exchange. It was interesting to see how some countries readily adopted the potato crop and allowed it to become an important cultural item, such as in Ireland. One of the interesting aspects of the book that really stood out to me was some primary source material of early professional chefs describing recipes using the new ingredient of potatoes and how one should go about to the market to look for a desirable potato. Other parts of the book that I really enjoyed included the use of the potato in political and philosophical circles to empower (at least in theory) the individual in society and raise them up to a greater state than before the potato was widely grown. Also, the current usage and cultivation of potatoes around the world as a global staple crop was discussed in depth and was interesting to learn about.
    Overall Potato by Rebecca Earle does a great job illuminating the secret life of potatoes and demonstrates that even  the mundane food staple of the potato has a rich backstory and cultural history. The book makes you wonder about other everyday foodstuffs and mundane items and what their history might possibly be, encouraging the reader to think about the world around them. And thinking about the world around you in a critical way is always a good thing.
    4 out of 5 stars.

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