A delightful exploration of traditional foods as well as a grim warning that we are farming on borrowed time.



Fascinating descriptions of Indigenous and mostly disappearing foods, plus an alarming message.

Veteran BBC food journalist Saladino emphasizes that world food production exploded after World War II when scientists produced superproductive grains, plants, and livestock. Though these developments drastically reduced famine, the mechanics involved require enormous inputs of chemicals, fertilizer, and water. Relying on elite, high-yield species eliminated those that didn’t measure up, diminishing their diversity. Today, rice, wheat, and corn provide half of all human calories. Most global pork comes from a single breed of pig, and more than 95% of U.S. dairy cows are a single breed, the Holstein. Limiting food diversity has been enormously profitable for large corporations, but the future consequences make scientists uneasy. “We are living and eating our way through one big unparalleled experiment,” writes the author. Having defined the problem, Saladino chronicles his travels around the world, describing dozens of vanishing edibles and pausing regularly to deliver the history of the major foods and food production. Readers will be intrigued and educated by his interviews with experts who warn of our disastrous dependence on a shrinking number of standardized foods. Commercial barley can’t survive in the cold, infertile islands north of Scotland, but its ancestral variety does fine. Although nearing extinction in the wild, Atlantic salmon is a familiar food item because almost all of them are farm raised. Bred to be faster growing and meatier, they have become a bland domestic food animal no less than the chicken or cow. Though there are more than 1,500 varieties of banana, most markets are dominated by the Cavendish, a cloned fruit grown in immense monocultures visible by satellite. Being genetically identical, they can’t evolve and so can’t develop resistance to disease, which inevitably spreads like wildfire. One specific disease is currently devastating the Cavendish, but scientists are working to edit the plant’s DNA “to find a fix against the disease.”

A delightful exploration of traditional foods as well as a grim warning that we are farming on borrowed time.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-374-60532-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.


Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.


A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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