A history of grains from the dawn of man to the green revolution would seem an ambitious enough undertaking, but Brown, unskilled at integrating relevant background, often makes this sound like a textbook on world civilization as well. Migrations and milestones are mechanically reiterated, ethnic platitudes abound (the Hungarians are ""a colorful people who love music and good food""), and condescending cultural pronouncements are laid down. (""The Greeks created a kind of democracy, and their art and architecture, drama and philosophy have never been surpassed."") Later chapters do however pick up in interest as they concentrate more on food habits and customs, such as the annual Shrove Tuesday Pancake Race run for some 500 years in Olney, England, and, since 1950, in Liberal, Kansas. And shuffled into the text are more than a hundred reasonably authentic recipes--reasonable, that is, if you can accept the ""optional"" substitution of cream of wheat for couscous and the one-stage steaming of the ""couscous tagine,"" which could result in a sticky mess. In the recipes as well as the history, then, Brown tends to bite off more than she's prepared to chew--but supervised groups (and this smacks of the classroom) can benefit from the ethnic variety of a compilation that includes, for samples, chapatis, tortillas, challah, Greek spinach pie, crepes, baklava, fried rice, and paella.