Sunday, January 15, 2012


I love bananas. Who doesn't? But would you think that there is enough to know about bananas to write an entire book? I don't mean some technical treatise aimed at botanists, I mean a popular book aimed at people like you and me. I wouldn't have thought so.

Until I read Banana: The Fate Of the Fruit That Changed the World, by Dan Koeppel. Koeppel writes not only a fascinating history of this delicious fruit, but an in-depth discussion of the dangers it faces from disease (much of it exacerbated by bad growing practices and bad politics). Bananas are not only the world's favorite sweet fruit, but a staple food in many parts of the world, where less-sweet versions are a basic starch, comparable to rice in Asia or potatoes in the US and UK.

Koeppel left me with a deep appreciation of one of my favorite foods, a craving to try a variety of banana nearly extinct, and more than a little concern that the fruit that is such an important part of my diet may not survive.

Of course, I should have known that, in the hands of a skilled and dedicated author, even so common a thing as a banana could make for fascinating reading. After all, just a couple of years ago, I read a very long, very interesting book on another common kitchen item: salt.

Salt A World History, by Mark Kurlansky, covers the topic of salt in detail that would be excruciating were it not for the fact that it so well written, and structured to carry you along in the political and practical history of something that everyone in the modern developed world takes for granted.

There are probably a lot of simple, everyday items—foods, simple tools, articles of clothing—that have fascinating back stories waiting to be uncovered by the right author. Something as simple as, say, a pencil.

Oh, wait. I think a friend of mine posted something on Facebook about a book on the history of the pencil. I think I might have to read that ....

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