I haven't done this in ages – it must be years, and I'm too embarrassed and lazy to look – but here are a couple of interesting books I've gotten through lately.

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Non-fiction, obviously. Nobody knows what kind of fiction anybody else will like.

1. Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat (Anastacia Marx De Salcedo). Hold on, hold on. It's not about the military. It's essentially a history of processed food, the technologies of which have been driven almost entirely by war and the needs (and funding) of armies. Granola bars, canned protein, preservatives, dehydrated food, freeze drying, chocolate bars…they all came about largely due to efforts to solve the logistical problems of feeding large numbers of men with high calorie needs in a variety of locations and climates. All of the "military" food technology transitions seamlessly to the consumer market.
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The Army wanted bread that wouldn't go stale for months on end and it got it; now it's virtually impossible to find bread that doesn't have a bizarrely long shelf life. The author is kind of annoying in more than a few passages, obviously too eager to mine the thesaurus (Anyone who uses the word "leitmotif" in a sentence describing granola bars is trying too hard to let us know she went to, let's say Columbia) and the anecdotes about herself and her family add little, but overall it's a great read. The chapters on the Edible Bars of Matter revolution and the technology behind extended food freshness are worth it.

2. 1946: The Making of the Modern World (Victor Sebesteyn). Having previously read his 1989, it made sense to see his take on the other of the two pivotal and defining years of the 20th Century. America is drowning in World War II content – books, movies, games, etc. – but they all end with V-J Day. Yet what happened in the immediate aftermath is the really interesting stuff, not who shot who at the Battle of Somesuch. The author was born behind the Iron Curtain and, for my tastes, fills both 1989 and 1946 with way too many "Communism is bad, kids" reminders (We get it, we've seen the highlight reels of the tomahawk dunks of free market capitalism's victory, Victor) but is a thorough and very straightforward writer. Of particular interest was the considerable attention he pays to the issue of mass rape (and, less sinister, the frenzy of consensual fornication that coincided with it) in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Japan and Germany.
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Few authors, and fewer male authors, bother to include that among the admittedly lengthy list of horrors of the war. Attention is also devoted to areas beyond Europe in quantity, with thorough chapters on the partition of India, the establishment of Israel, the Chinese civil war, post-war Japan, and other non-Western subjects. You'll understand a lot more about the world as it looks today by the time you finish this.

If you're looking for books, those are books.

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27 thoughts on “BOOKS OF NOTE”

  • OK, I give up – why does bread last for weeks now? I tried Googling for the answer, but it seems to be a deep dark trade secret. Microwaves? UV? Infrared? Cobalt-60?

  • Thanks for the book suggestions, Ed. One of the random cable channels in my tv lineup has been showing Food Inc. a lot recently, so I'm interested in reading the book on processed food.

    I used to work with a woman whose parents fled the USSR as children in the early 1970s when the Jews started leaving. The co-worker was born here and is a Murikuh-lovin', Fox-news-watchin', Commie-hatin' Rill Muriken. It's interesting to hear her spout the same type of jingoistic, uneducated propaganda that her grandparents would have spouted.

  • Do we have to have these books to pass?

    Kidding aside, I can't wait to read these. Every book I've read that you recommended has been fantastic. Now if I could find the book full of hare-brained schemes we tried during the Cold War, that would be perfect.

  • Hi,
    Your books look pretty good. The 1946 book is particularly interesting as it seems to cover a lot of stuff that gets glossed over. Delbort if you want some more coverage of the Cold War funnies try here: This is link all the Popular Science magazine, you can look through all the late 40's and early 50's for that sort of stuff. Pay particular attention to the AD's. For the returning serviceman there were all kinds of correspondence courses ("RADIO!", "PLASTICS!",TAXIDERMY!"…..) It's a great time capsule of the period.

  • I remember Korean War vintage C Rations in 1969/1970. The bread was a bit dry but it was probably already dry in 1953. Lots of salt in most of it.

  • Have a look at "A Colder War" by Charles Stross, all the military hardware described was seriously proposed in the fifties, except for the shoggoth.

  • You might also want to check out "Lawrence In Arabia," published a few years ago. You'll gain a good understanding of what was going on in the Middle East at the beginning of the 20th century and how it shaped the situation there today.

  • @ Mo – try this

    @ Marc — I second the motion on Lawrence IN Arabia (not Lawrence OF Arabia).

    Absolutely fascinating book. I couldn't put it down. If you read it, you'll have a much better understanding of the ME situation today. It goes into great detail on Sykes-Picot, which is really at the root of many current problems and is unknown to many, many people. Even Lawrence OF Arabia gave it about 20 seconds and even that scene may have been cut. I saw it in the uncut version — 45 minutes of the original film were cut shortly after release.

  • … the other of the two pivotal and defining years of the 20th Century.

    Um. 1914? 1917? Two of the other pivotal and defining years, perhaps?

  • Book 1 sounds like a few episodes of the old CONNECTIONS TV series. (Napoleon's conquest of Europe leads to canned foods). Also remember reading somewhere that the Civil War led to standardized sizing for clothing & shoes.

    Fun Facts To Know & Tell.

  • Skipper –

    Thanks! However, the irony of that Food Babe chemicals-will-kill-ya thing is that one of the bread brands she recommends, Dave's, is exactly what I buy at Costco and which lasts…forever. I have never had a piece develop mold, even after weeks.

    Bread I bake myself, using unbleached flour, is lucky to make it 3 days without looking like Roquefort.

  • It sounds like they cover the mass murder, pillaging, and wide-spread rape in Prussia by the Russian Army in the period of 1945-1947.

    Innocent farming families were killed, tortured, beaten, had everything of value taken from them, had their women raped (regardless of age), were forced to march long distances in the dead of winter and/or were made to serve as slaves on their own land by the Poles, and then finally were forcibly relocated to Germany (when many of the families had not lived there in 300 years), and stuck in refugee camps.

    The US (along with the French and Russian Armies) also kept the Germans penned up in various cities and essentially starved them for years.

    It's something that we never learn about here, for some reason. I guess from the US perspective Germans were all bad and they all deserved terrible things to happen to them because Hitler, so no use teaching anyone about that stuff.

  • If you want to keep your bread fresh, put it your refrigerator.

    Sally and I and the whole community, did get free huge cans of powdered eggs from the State Armory in Utica in the late 1960s. I suppose most of it came from early 1960s bomb shelter stocks.

    One thing in my 69 years is that while very interesting from our time, early cold war oriented TV ads were nowhere near as frequent or as terrifying to middle America as depicted by TV histories. Even the Cuban missile crisis was mostly scary until Walter Cronkite signed off. Without cable news only followers of Sunday TV news pundits were kept on the edge of their seats.

    Although "Duck And Cover" ads really weren't all over the place my dad wore his CD pin for taking part in short wave radio exercises pretending to save the day for communications when the Russians were coming.

  • @SeaTea:

    The mass "relocation" of Germans, Polish, etc., after WWII never gets enough attention in US history classes. It suffers from the attention given to the start of the Cold War, Berlin Wall, etc., and that in history classes in the US usually end in the 20th century, so time literally runs out to talk about most 20th century history.

    The expulsion of Germans after WWII from what is now Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, etc., is touted as the largest forced migration in history. A quick google search puts the number at about 14 million. An example of this migration is that in the inter-war period, the 2nd largest ethnic group in Czechoslovakia was German. Almost all of them were forced to leave, including members of my family that didn't come over to the US in the late 19th century.

    If you look at a map of pre-WWII Poland and look at a map of post-WWII Poland, you'll notice that it a) seemed to move a few hundred miles west, and b) lost a ton of land to the USSR. The Soviets wanted to put a nice buffer zone between Western Europe and the Motherland. Eastern Europe, unlike parts of Western Europe, was not packed into easy "nation-states" where pretty homogenous populations lived like in France or England. They are much more homogenous now, mainly because of this forced migration that took place after WWII.

  • File both these books under Aftermath of War, I suppose. No surprise, really, that war-making was the immediate driver of innovation with respect to foodstuffs. An argument could be made, however, that this type of development really fits better under the broader categories Standardization and Mechanization, both of which were being driven by population increase (i.e., demographics) and regular old corporate profit-making. More recently, civil crowd-management tech (coming soon to a neighborhood near you!) is virtually indistinguishable from military-grade weaponry, which embodies the same basic disregard for human life and wellbeing that characterizes the second book. Curious choices for nonfiction reading.

  • I recently read "Vitamania", a lively history of food fortification and related technologies. There's a chapter on the military labs in which all the combat foods are developed. Regarding bread, I make bread at home and it lasts for days – or until our two teenage sons finish it. Food Babe is to food what Ann Coulter is to politics.

    I have read about the massive devastation inflicted on eastern European Germans by the Red Army. There's a book about it which purports to contrast it with the relatively civilized and humane behavior of the Wehrmacht during their invasion of the USSR; the author appears to be serious. It is true that the Germans living outside of Germany were not directly responsible for German policy from '33 to '45, but much of that policy was justified by the German government as beneficial for just that population. Had they won, there probably wouldn't be a significant Slav population between Berlin and the Urals.

  • The public library had 1946: The Making of the Modern World, and I skimmed through the sections on Great Britain (I was stationed there from the very-late 1980s to the very-early 1990s and I loved the place). One reason for Britain's reputation for awful food just may have been that they had no food for a very long time. I had no idea they had borrowed money from the USA and were still paying it back in the 1980s and 1990s.

    I look forward to reading Combat-Ready Kitchen. With two kids home from college for the winter break, however, I find that food doesn't last long enough to need preservation.

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