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The Potato

How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World

Larry Zuckerman

North Point Press

The Potato Download image

ISBN10: 0865475784
ISBN13: 9780865475786

Trade Paperback

336 Pages



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The Potato tells the story of how a humble vegetable, once regarded as trash food, had as revolutionary an impact on Western history as the railroad or the automobile. Using Ireland, England, France, and the United States as examples, Larry Zuckerman shows how daily life from the 1770s until World War I would have been unrecognizable-perhaps impossible-without the potato, which functioned as fast food, famine insurance, fuel and labor saver, budget stretcher, and bank loan, as well as delicacy. Drawing on personal diaries, contemporaneous newspaper accounts, and other primary sources, this is popular social history at its liveliest and most illuminating.


Praise for The Potato

"To single [the potato] out as the salvation of the world as we know it is, perhaps, a tiny bit overzealous—but not, as this book proves, preposterous."—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

"Thorough and lively . . . .Zuckerman is an excellent storyteller, both conscientious and colloquial . . . The book stimulates and illuminates."—Emily Gordon, Newsday

"The story of the potato in Western civilization is part of the history of the table, of living conditions, of social attitudes, and even of views of heredity and degeneration. Zuckerman's exploration of these areas without losing his grip on the tuber is masterful, executed with economy and wit."—Katherine A. Powers, The Boston Sunday Globe

"To mash the several-thousand-year history of the potato into a couple hundred pages and to whip that history into lively and engaging prose is a feat worthy of the subject. The potato matters and I'm glad to know why."—Betty Fussell, author of The Story of Corn

"Zuckerman . . . knows a frightening great deal about potatoes . . . He knows how the darn things sustained the European population boom and helped along the Industrial Revolution . . . [His] exhaustive, fine research pays off big."—Ben Neihart, The Baltimore Sun

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


... a scarcely innocent underground stem of one of a tribe set aside for evil.
--John Ruskin,

Just before the First World War, an American explorer...