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Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations Hardcover – Jun 15 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Jun 15 2010
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; 1 edition (June 15 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439101892
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439101896
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 476 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #328,005 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"A panoramic overview of the vulnerability of global food networks to climate change....draws important lessons from the past....Though the topic is serious, the authors provide plenty of enlightening stories, including the adventures of a 16th-century Italian merchant who spent 15 years circumnavigating the globe, and the work of St. Benedict of Nursia, who established a network of monasteries that became "a nucleus of industry and food production," producing agricultural surpluses, creating commercial networks and promoting technological advances such as iron plows and the use of oxen. Spanning the whole of human civilization, this is a compelling read for foodies, environmentalists and social and economic historians." --Kirkus

"With a flavor of Jared Diamond, Empires of Food thoughtfully weaves the religion, military history, and science into a historical arc of how food undergirds civilization's rise and fall. Sprinkling discussions of monks and bird guano in with the Roman Empire and colonization, the book elucidates the inherent instability of how our current food infrastructure has evolved and will make you rethink how you eat."
--Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles

"Evan Fraser and Andrew Rimas vividly recreate centuries of spice-filled ships and grain silos to show that while the pen and the gun may be the visible tools of diplomacy, the knife and fork are often the true instruments of human change. Their unsentimental march through our history and into the future reaches a conclusion that is both inspiring and unnerving: civilization is what we eat."
--Sasha Issenberg, author of The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy

"Empires of Food deals with a subject of grave importance and profound implications for the political economy of the world. Although the subject is serious, it is written in a compelling and readable style. While not pedantic or ponderous in any way, it is of impressive academic rigor. This book needs to be read and thoughtfully considered by policy-makers and citizens everywhere. And if you enjoy lunch, don't fail to read it!"
--John Manley, former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada

"With a breathtaking sweep, Empires of Food takes us on a rollicking culinary journey through the ecological history of civilization. The result is a rare treat: hard-hitting analysis cooked to read like a captivating novel. For pure pleasure or a deeper understanding of why civilizations rise and fall, it's a perfect choice for any curious mind."
--Peter Dauvergne, Professor and Canada Research Chair at the University of British Columbia, author of The Shadows of Consumption

"This isn't just first class scholarship, it's energetic writing. Fraser and Rimas have a knack for the little detail that unveils the big thought. Empires of Food is a must-read for anyone who wants to know why every night a billion people got to bed obese and another billion go to bed hungry."
--George Alagiah, author of A Passage To Africa and A Home From Home

"Empires of Food is a panoramic and prescient book which presents the challenges that civilizations have faced with agricultural production and societal fashions for food. The authors approach the issue with refreshing pragmatism and urge us to move towards a "glocal" approach to consumption norms. Their compelling narrative recognizes the value of efficient global food systems while also appreciating the importance of local connections to reduce ecological impacts. Such a vision for our palates holds much promise in balancing the debate on food ethics and sustainable development."
--Saleem H. Ali, author of Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future

“In offering a compelling portrait of the interplay between imperial expansion and food systems across the millennia, Empires of Food lays before us the fragility of a 21st century food system beset by climate change, rising fuel costs and a shrinking agricultural frontier and wonders whether, like the empires of the past, we will sustain a delusion of a superabundance as we careen toward a world of famine and insecurity or whether we will we find the wisdom and the means to avert catastrophe.”

--Raymond C. Offenheiser, President, Oxfam America

"Forget the old stages of human history, the familiar stone, bronze, iron age sequence: University of Guelph geographer Fraser and journalist co-author Rimas make a convincing case that food—or rather, food surpluses—best explain the rise and fall of civilizations. If cultures produce more than farmers eat, and find a way to store, transport and exchange that extra, then urban centres can flourish. Trouble is, food empires have always, so far, grown to the limits of their carrying capacity, hanging on precariously until the weather changes or pests strike, and the whole thing collapses. It’s happened everywhere, as Fraser and Rimas demonstrate in their entertaining tour of past disasters. And maybe it’s happening again: in five of the past 10 years the world has eaten more than it has produced, causing us to draw down on our grain stocks. There may yet be a lot more food to wring out of technological progress; then again, there may not be." --Mclean's

"This is a book with a big thesis and panorama. Whether writing about ancient Rome, the Mayans, China, or mediaeval Europe, 19th century Britain and 20th century USA, the authors draw us inexorably to question whether the 21st century globalizing food system is poised to be punished for forgetting the laws of ecology. Fraser and Rimas propose that seemingly impregnable societies can falter and fail if they ignore the sustainability of their food supplies." --Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy, City University, London

About the Author

Evan Fraser is an adjunct professor of geography at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada and a Senior Lecturer at the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds in the UK. His research is on farming, climate change and the environment. He lives in the Yorkshire Dales with his wife and three children.

Andrew Rimas is a journalist and the managing editor at the Improper Bostonian magazine; previously he was an associate editor and staff writer at Boston magazine. His work has frequently appeared in those publications, and in The Boston Globe Magazine and The Boston Globe.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book connects many apparently disconnected details so that, together, they show the fabric of the past. For example, the loss of fertility in the bread basket of the Middle East caused by over-irrigation, and how this still echoes in the history of the area. The book shows how, generation after generation makes the same mistakes in food production: monoculture, soil exhaustion and degradation. Particularly intriguing is the realization that a technical "advance" like refrigeration actually hastens the degradation.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this book fascinating; an illuminating explanation of how food systems work. Using historical case studies and current data, Fraser and Rimas show us where we're at and how we got here - how culture, greed and industrialization have brought our food systems to a precarious turning point. And they propose steps we can take to stop repeating the mistakes of past civilizations. Reading this book taught me so much that I needed to know. Most highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Highly recommended.

Empires of Food is equal parts entertaining and enlightening - perfect summer reading for any foodie, environmentalist or history buff. Fraser and Rimas blend history with science to create a thoroughly enjoyable read that explores the impact of food on human history.
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Format: Hardcover
Perhaps it was the ironic timing with what is going on in Egypt and the Middle East right now but I found this book both very informative and entertaining. Well written this book covers a wide range of subjects without any overkill. From how the Roman Empire fed itself to the meanings of Free Trade and Organic foods this book is recommended for the general interest reader as well as the specialist. This book will certainly open your eyes to how the world really works and not what the media thinks.
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