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Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World Paperback – Dec 30 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (Dec 30 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452290082
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452290082
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.6 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 159 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #109,970 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

The world's most humble fruit has caused inordinate damage to nature and man, and Popular Science journalist Koeppel (To See Every Bird on Earth) embarks on an intelligent, chock-a-block sifting through the havoc. Seedless, sexless bananas evolved from a wild inedible fruit first cultivated in Southeast Asia, and was probably the apple that got Adam and Eve in trouble in the Garden of Eden. From there the fruit traveled to Africa and across the Pacific, arriving on U.S. shores probably with the Europeans in the 15th century. However, the history of the banana turned sinister as American businessmen caught on to the marketability of this popular, highly perishable fruit then grown in Jamaica. Thanks to the building of the railroad through Costa Rica by the turn of the century, the United Fruit company flourished in Central America, its tentacles extending into all facets of government and industry, toppling banana republics and igniting labor wars. Meanwhile, the Gros Michel variety was annihilated by a fungus called Panama disease (Sigatoka), which today threatens the favored Cavendish, as Koeppel sounds the alarm, shuttling to genetics-engineering labs from Honduras to Belgium. His sage, informative study poses the question fairly whether it's time for consumers to reverse a century of strife and exploitation epitomized by the purchase of one banana. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Dan Koeppel is a well-known outdoors, nature, and adventure writer who has written for the New York Times Magazine, Outside, Audubon, Popular Science, and National Geographic Adventure, where he is a contributing editor. Koeppel has also appeared on CNN and Good Morning America, and is a former commentator for Public Radio International's Marketplace.


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Brian Maitland TOP 500 REVIEWER on Feb. 19 2009
Format: Paperback
If you have even a smidgen of what the United Fruit Co. was all about, you will love this look at the world's most popular fruit--the banana. That connection will help you understand the true meaning of a banana republic and how US foreign policy in Latin America was shaped by this fruit (get the book and all will be revealed).

Banana doesn't stop there. The author presents some important yet not widely known info about the fruit. We learn about the popular varieties of bananas (yes, not all bananas are created equal), the lyrics of that famous Carmen Miranda song that presented such a falsehood about refrigerating bananas, the reason genetic modification may actually save this tasty fruit from extinction and many more tangents that help us understand why this simple fruit is a world changer.

The writing is in-depth but with a breezy style. Adding the "Banana Time Line" in the Appendix was a stroke of genius. Even the cover adds a nice, almost Warholian Velvets and Nico album cover, touch by having the banana pictured actually feel like a banana skin when you run your fingers over it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By ogilvie on June 6 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Koeppel covers just about all conceivable ground, but his concise political and historical summaries are rather more effective than his attempts to deal with the more scientific side of the story. These are diffuse if not obscurantist or irrelevant (e.g., a page-long description of a banana-devoid street outside a building that houses an institute devoted to study of the banana). Students of Central American history are likely to find the relevant sections of the book of interest.
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Format: Paperback
Borrowed this book from a Honduran library and couldn't put it down! Fascinating primer on the world's most popular fruit- covers history, trade, disease, politics, reproduction etc.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 117 reviews
69 of 69 people found the following review helpful
Curiouser and curiouser Jan. 15 2008
By mamartinez - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I have sat down to write this review at least 2 dozen times. There are so many things I wish to say about this book. All of them wonderful.

While I could go on at length about technical aspects of banana farming and the endless supply of quirky "did you knows," I think that the most lasting impact that this book had on me is its ability to make me want to learn more. Koeppel's works inform--thoroughly--but they also inspire true wonder and curiosity, and that's where the gold is.

"Banana" is written in a style that, if occasionally austere, is quite quick and energetic; I found it difficult to put the book down. With the turn of every page, I felt I learned something new, and subsequently wanted to learn more: be it about bananas, trade, globalization, science, genetic coding, 20th century marketing practices, the United States' political, cultural, and economic imperialism, the covert domination of "banana republics," violent crackdowns on labor movements--all of it!

Koeppel makes sure to balance the light with the heavy and knows exactly when he's losing those of us that don't exactly find banana DNA the most thrilling topic in the world. "Banana" masterfully weaves diverse issues into a tight, delightful read, leaving the reader excited and hungry for more. I truly cannot give this piece all of the praise it deserves.
74 of 76 people found the following review helpful
Bananas about Bananas Jan. 10 2008
By Jean A. Railla - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Dan Koeppel, author of the stunning To See Every Bird on Earth, turns his obsessive inclinations to the banana. Who knew such an everyday, seemingly innocent fruit could embody so much, well, drama? The banana that we all know and love, the Cavendish, is rapidly becoming infected with an unstoppable disease, which threatens to wipe out not only whole crops but whole economies. How and why this is happening and what can be done about it, is the primary--but not only--concern of the book.

More than just a food history, Banana transverses the globe, modern genetics, and past and present political struggles in a fast-paced narrative that reads more like a travelogue than a textbook. Koeppel is one of those rare authors that like Mark Kurlansky, can make any subject come alive. Rather than throw facts at the reader, Koeppel takes you by the hand and walks you through his tale. From genetic research labs in Belgium to plantations in the Philippines, to the creation of banana republics of Central America, to the banana--not the apple--as the most likely fruit in the biblical story of Adam and Eve, Koeppel weaves a rich story, where all these seemingly disconnected pieces come together. Bananas is a remarkable piece of journalism. Anyone interested in the politics and social history of food, or for those just bananas about bananas will appreciate it.
70 of 77 people found the following review helpful
Bananas, While We Still Have Them Jan. 17 2008
By Rob Hardy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
"Yes, we have no bananas", goes the song, and even if you are not a devotee of tin pan alley ballads, you can probably make that catchy tune of 1923 sound in your head. It was written at a time when, yes, the world risked losing all its bananas, and yes, we ourselves might have no bananas in the future. If that means you won't have bananas to slice upon your cereal, OK, but for others in the world it means they simply won't have enough food. It isn't all a dire story, but in _Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World_ (Hudson Street Press), Dan Koeppel, a popular nature writer, has covered a huge amount of history and biology, both of which are full of dark intimations of the worst aspects of human nature. "The _____ That Changed the World" subtitle is overused, but Koeppel makes it clear that this time it accurately applies. The banana, or the way humans have cultivated and used it, has raised and toppled nations, and still affects current geopolitical forces.

Bananas have traveled around the world, starting from the wild varieties of South China, Southeast Asia, and India, giving hundreds of cultivated varieties. It is surprising that some have textures like apples, and some must be cooked, and many of them have tart or creamy flavors that American shoppers know nothing about. This is because we buy one banana, the Cavendish which has good properties to make it transportable and long-lasting, but that it forms almost all the world's commercially cultured bananas is its weakness, perhaps a dangerous one. We have been through this before; the Cavendish is not your grandparent's banana. The one they ate was the _Gros Michel_ (Big Mike) banana, which was the monoculture banana of its time until, as one-species crops tend to do, it caught a bad disease, Panama Disease, a fungus that was discovered in that country and then spread worldwide. Bananas by that time had become a worldwide trade, and especially in South America the big companies got the dictators to agree about the dangers of rights for the banana workers, and of labor unions, and the American government helped out. There is new bad news for bananas: Cavendish bananas are now succumbing to Panama disease, as did their predecessor, and the disease is rapidly being transported worldwide. Koeppel maintains that there is one prospect of a solution, and that is genetic modification. GM is regarded with horror as producing "frankenfood", but it is in the banana that it could be used with the least risk. Proprietary seeds won't be developed, both because seeds are hard to come by and because scientists working on the banana genome have agreed that any resultant fruit will be in the public domain. Bananas, which have no seeds or pollen, are at little risk for allowing their modifications to escape into the wild.

Something will have to be done if we want our bananas, and we do want them: we eat more of them than apples and oranges combined. No more bananas would mean a gustatory loss for Americans but a nutritional disaster for Africa and other parts of the world where locally-grown bananas are a staple rather than a snack. The Cavendish was in the wings ready to take the stage when the Gros Michel was slain, and now that the Cavendish may go the same way, there is no understudy waiting to take over. Koeppel's descriptions of history and biology are reasoned and thoughtful, and this is far from an incendiary book. It is full of details that are surprising and amusing, as well as troubling. Koeppel shows that we have taken the banana for granted, and that this is part of its current problem; his welcome book will ensure that the banana's complexities are far better understood.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Solid Read Feb. 6 2008
By Amos McLean - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I picked this up on a lark, having enjoyed another micro history work on cotton. I never imagined I would be so interested in a book on bananas, but just a few pages in and I was hooked.

Nice work.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Good, but not exactly a 'keeper' June 22 2010
By C. Mayer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book for revealing the actual, factual story of 'Big Banana' in Central and South America. It was good to finally read an account of what ACTUALLY happened, as opposed to the generalized 'it was a very bad time' story that one hears from people who either lived through it themselves, or heard it from their parents. Or worse, other writers who have either downplayed the villainy of these companies, or exaggerated it to demonic proportions. The reality was ugly enough.
Having visited and/or lived in some of the banana growing regions of the Western Hemisphere, I can tell you the damage is/was real, and continues to this day. The runoff from banana fields contaminates every body of water for miles around an active field.

The writing in here was pretty good. Not great, but not bad. The style is a little breezy in spots, but thats to be expected in a 'popular' book of this subject matter. I really think a few more photos would have enhanced this book tremendously, as well as a slightly more scholarly tone in a few areas. However, I realize that this is personal preference, and does not detract from the quality of the book. It just got a bit 'chatty' for my taste.

I would have given a 4 star, but the book lacks any detailed horticultural information (other than discussion of the use of pesticides), and that seems like an appropriate and needed addition to a book that tries to discuss a fruit that supports millions of lives. Politics, science and history are well discussed, but I really would have liked a little more about the impact of this fruit on lives of individuals who depend on it for daily sustenance. Horticultural info, a deeper discussion of varieties (including some more obscure cultivars), recipes, maps...something that would make this book less disposable.

A good, quick read (2 nights), but not one that is going to have a permanent home on my bookshelf


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