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Ten Tomatoes that Changed the World: A History

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New York Times bestselling author William Alexander takes readers on the surprisingly twisty journey of the beloved tomato in this fascinating and erudite microhistory.The tomato gets no respect. Never has. Lost in the dustbin of history for centuries, accused of being vile and poisonous, subjected to being picked hard-green and gassed, even used as a projectile, the poor New York Times bestselling author William Alexander takes readers on the surprisingly twisty journey of the beloved tomato in this fascinating and erudite microhistory.The tomato gets no respect. Never has.


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New York Times bestselling author William Alexander takes readers on the surprisingly twisty journey of the beloved tomato in this fascinating and erudite microhistory.The tomato gets no respect. Never has. Lost in the dustbin of history for centuries, accused of being vile and poisonous, subjected to being picked hard-green and gassed, even used as a projectile, the poor New York Times bestselling author William Alexander takes readers on the surprisingly twisty journey of the beloved tomato in this fascinating and erudite microhistory.The tomato gets no respect. Never has. Lost in the dustbin of history for centuries, accused of being vile and poisonous, subjected to being picked hard-green and gassed, even used as a projectile, the poor tomato has become the avatar for our disaffection with industrial foods — while becoming the most popular vegetable in America (and, in fact, the world). Each summer, tomato festivals crop up across the country; the Heinz ketchup bottle, instantly recognizable, has earned a spot in the Smithsonian; and now the tomato is redefining the very nature of farming, moving from fields into climate-controlled mega-greenhouses the size of New England villages. Supported by meticulous research and told in a lively, accessible voice, Ten Tomatoes That Changed the World seamlessly weaves travel, history, humor, and a little adventure (and misadventure) to follow the tomato's trail through history. A fascinating story complete with heroes, con artists, conquistadors, and—no surprise—the Mafia, this book is a mouth-watering, informative, and entertaining guide to the food that has captured our hearts for generations.

20 review for Ten Tomatoes that Changed the World: A History

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mel Rose (Savvy Rose Reads)

    Rating: 5/5 starsOut June 7, 2022 [Huge thanks to Grand Central Publishing for providing me with a gifted copy in exchange for an honest review!]I am a huge fan of micro histories on super niche topics, so when I saw Ten Tomatoes That Changed The World I knew I had to have it, and trust me when I tell you I was not disappointed. I was mildly obsessed with this book from beginning to end (and thoroughly annoyed—er, I mean, regaled—my family with endless tomato anecdotes for several days). The str Rating: 5/5 starsOut June 7, 2022 [Huge thanks to Grand Central Publishing for providing me with a gifted copy in exchange for an honest review!]I am a huge fan of micro histories on super niche topics, so when I saw Ten Tomatoes That Changed The World I knew I had to have it, and trust me when I tell you I was not disappointed. I was mildly obsessed with this book from beginning to end (and thoroughly annoyed—er, I mean, regaled—my family with endless tomato anecdotes for several days). The structure of the book is straightforward and easy to follow, using major developments and events (including the invention of pizza, of ketchup, and so on) to tell the history of the tomato—a history which is surprisingly fraught, fascinating, and filled with political, historical, and horticultural drama. Genuinely, I cannot recommend Ten Tomatoes That Changed The World highly enough, and this is coming from someone who is actually allergic to tomatoes! (But I eat them anyway.)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bex Bradley

    BRILLIANT 🍅 this is basically the Tomato version of ‘Sapiens’ and I loved it equally. This book covers the history of tomatoes from where they began to where they are now (and a glimpse into the future) but it’s not just that! I loved this book because whilst I was learning about tomatoes I was also learning about important events in history, biology and economics (much like Sapiens). The author writes in a friendly manner, very easy to consume (yes, that’s a good pun). I gave this book 5 stars BRILLIANT 🍅 this is basically the Tomato version of ‘Sapiens’ and I loved it equally. This book covers the history of tomatoes from where they began to where they are now (and a glimpse into the future) but it’s not just that! I loved this book because whilst I was learning about tomatoes I was also learning about important events in history, biology and economics (much like Sapiens). The author writes in a friendly manner, very easy to consume (yes, that’s a good pun). I gave this book 5 stars but don’t go adding it to your ‘to read’ list right away. I’d recommend asking your self: did you like Sapiens? Are you especially interested in food? If yes and yes, this book is for you. If you also like history or biology or are an especially curious person or just really love tomatoes so much - this is book is definitely for you.

  3. 5 out of 5

    cycads and ferns

    “Certainly, being in the nightshade family did the tomato no favors, for its fellow nightshade, belladonna, is one of the most toxic plants on the planet, having killed off more popes, cardinals, and Roman emperors than syphilis.”Having grown many heirloom tomato varieties myself, both determinate and indeterminate, l found this history of the tomato fascinating. The original “discovered” by Hernán Cortes in the Aztec Empire, the tomato was a ribbed, segmented fruit. Forgotten for centuries, it “Certainly, being in the nightshade family did the tomato no favors, for its fellow nightshade, belladonna, is one of the most toxic plants on the planet, having killed off more popes, cardinals, and Roman emperors than syphilis.”Having grown many heirloom tomato varieties myself, both determinate and indeterminate, l found this history of the tomato fascinating. The original “discovered” by Hernán Cortes in the Aztec Empire, the tomato was a ribbed, segmented fruit. Forgotten for centuries, it was rediscovered and hybridized to the fruit we use today. This history includes the San Marzano tomatoes of Naples which became essential for the margherita pizza and later to the Lombardi pizzas of NYC. This history includes Henry J Heinz and the bottling of ketchup, continues to the Florida green tomatoe and ends with the Campari tomatoes grown in Ontario by the Mastronardi greenhouses.Reading this history of the tomato made me think of the voyage to the bunny planet, first tomato, by Rosemary Wells. In this children’s book, a young girl waits for the first tomato of the season. Been there. ‘A ruby red tomato is hanging on the vine. If my mother didn’t want it, the tomato would be mine.It smells of rain and steamy earth and hot June sun. In the whole tomato garden it’s the only ripe one. I close my eyes and breathe in its fat red smell. I wish that I could eat it now and never, never tell.But I save it for my mother without another look….I hear my mother calling when the summer winds blow. “I’ve made you first tomato soup because I love you so.”’

  4. 5 out of 5

    Furrawn

    This book and William Alexander will take you from the Aztecs to Dominos to Campari tomatoes. If you love tomatoes (I do) or history (I do if it’s history that interests me), you’ll greatly enjoy this book. It was fascinating to read how the tomato finally became something gourmet and loved in Italy and the U.S. William Alexander did not cook in this book. There was no hilarious pursuit of gardening and cooking or language learning. There are a few super short mentions of his making pizza etc in This book and William Alexander will take you from the Aztecs to Dominos to Campari tomatoes. If you love tomatoes (I do) or history (I do if it’s history that interests me), you’ll greatly enjoy this book. It was fascinating to read how the tomato finally became something gourmet and loved in Italy and the U.S. William Alexander did not cook in this book. There was no hilarious pursuit of gardening and cooking or language learning. There are a few super short mentions of his making pizza etc in the book but just a sentence sprinkled here and there. His kids and wife Anne are mostly missing. Indeed, I myself felt like William Alexander is mostly missing from the book. He’s still in the book of course since he is the writer, but he’s mostly just there as a narrator… a bit like a dry museum guide. This book is THE MUSEUM OF THE TOMATO FROM AZTECS TO BRANDYWINES. I learned quite a bit of new information. I just really missed William Alexander’s exploits and personality flooding the pages. No hijinks. No hilarity. No subdued hilarious sarcasm from his wife. I didn’t love this book as much as his past books. It was still a very good read. I very much recommend the book but not as your first book by him. I hesitated to write a review at all. What if he or his wife Anne read this? But, if I was the writer, I’d want honesty. I have to believe they do, too. Yes, I really did write this silly paragraph. I’ve read all his books, and I feel bad giving the book four stars instead of five… I just have to point out that four stars is still very good.

  5. 5 out of 5

    April Taylor

    Tomatoes have a surprisingly interesting history, and the author does a good job of bringing it to life. Especially interesting was the chapter about pizza and how tomato sauce became a must-have ingredient. Sadly, as tomatoes have become more important as a food source, much of their flavor has been lost. But if we were to go back to the more flavorful tomatoes of the past, we’d have to pay a much higher cost. Occasionally, the author gets a bit too deep into the weeds. However, for the most pa Tomatoes have a surprisingly interesting history, and the author does a good job of bringing it to life. Especially interesting was the chapter about pizza and how tomato sauce became a must-have ingredient. Sadly, as tomatoes have become more important as a food source, much of their flavor has been lost. But if we were to go back to the more flavorful tomatoes of the past, we’d have to pay a much higher cost. Occasionally, the author gets a bit too deep into the weeds. However, for the most part, the author uses plain language that anyone can understand. Overall, this was a very enjoyable book that took me on a ride throughout several centuries. Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing an ARC. This review contains my honest, unbiased opinion.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alicia

    Food histories are awesome and who knew the depth of the tomato? But Alexander is taking us there and there is just as much intrigue and myth around specific tomatoes as there are lawsuits, pesticides, diseases, and profits. Using the "ten tomatoes that changed the world" Alexander goes point by point about these specific kinds of tomatoes like the San Marizano to the heirloom to the "mature green" from Florida. Each unfolds a captivating life about who named what, where it came from, how it was Food histories are awesome and who knew the depth of the tomato? But Alexander is taking us there and there is just as much intrigue and myth around specific tomatoes as there are lawsuits, pesticides, diseases, and profits. Using the "ten tomatoes that changed the world" Alexander goes point by point about these specific kinds of tomatoes like the San Marizano to the heirloom to the "mature green" from Florida. Each unfolds a captivating life about who named what, where it came from, how it was packaged, certifications (similar to champagne from France), and sizes and names, and who was fed what. And all of it was good old fashioned research, travel, and interviewing with an injection of an entertaining voice for the ages. I liked Alexander's quips every now and then that was just the right amount of sass about the tomato and it's people. "When the tomato started to circulate throughout Italy, Giulia says, it was so foreign that Italians weren't even sure which part of the plant was meant to be eaten. Some gourmands pronounced it inedible after munching on the leaves. And, Giulia adds, 'it was considered poisonous by many,' (The leaves, in large quantities, are). Certainly, being in the nightshade family did the tomato no favors, for its fellow nightshade, belladonna, is one of the most toxic plants on the planet, having killed off more popes, cardinals, and Roman emperors than syphilis. Belladonna's toxicity belies its unthreatening name- 'beautiful woman' in Italian- which comes from its former use by Italian women to dilate their pupils to an alluring size, the allure perhaps proving too great for those donna who went from bella to blind after repeated use... eggplant and peppers, for example- had long been a part of the Italian diet. In fact, the tomato was sometimes misidentified as a new type of eggplant by sixteenth-century botanists, who therefore certainly knew it wasn't poisonous.""God bless the monks and nuns, who, if they didn't invent record keeping, elevated it to a high art. In monasteries, they wrote down EVERYTHING, especially how they spent every precious lira. We know, for example, that in the mid-1700s the Jesuits of the Casa Professa in Rome were eating tomatoes in a frittata every Friday during July. The Celestine nuns of Trani had tomato soup on exactly twenty occasions in 1751. Benedictine nuns in Sicily were eating tomatoes and herbs in a pastry they called mortaretto.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Popup-ch

    A history of the Tomato, from the conquistadores to covid.Most of the tomato history is surprisingly recent!The tomato has become emblematic for the Italian cuisine, but it arrived there comparatively late. The tomato was first taken from the New World by the Spanish explorers, but never really thrived in Europe. People were suspicious of the new fruit, but it was used as an ornamental plant. It was taken to America, where it started to be eaten in the 18th century, but not in huge numbers. Toma A history of the Tomato, from the conquistadores to covid.Most of the tomato history is surprisingly recent!The tomato has become emblematic for the Italian cuisine, but it arrived there comparatively late. The tomato was first taken from the New World by the Spanish explorers, but never really thrived in Europe. People were suspicious of the new fruit, but it was used as an ornamental plant. It was taken to America, where it started to be eaten in the 18th century, but not in huge numbers. Tomato has the distinction of having a fairly short but productive harvest, and short-lived fruit. It was not until the canning was perfected in the 19th century that the tomato was re-introduced in large numbers to Italy. (There was some tomato paste drying etc before then, but it did not feature prominently in Italian cuisine until well into the 19th century.) The famous San Marzano tomato was commercially grown only in 1926, being bred especially for canning, where its elongated shape and thin skin makes it ideal.There's a chapter about the boring tomatoes that Americans are forced to eat during the off-months, that used to be grown under slave-like conditions by illegal migrants (c.f. Tomatoland), but are these days just plain boring. They have been bred and farmed for durability and yield rather than flavour, but are now increasingly being challenged by green-house grown tomatoes from Canada(!), where the Dutch-style heated hothouses have taken hold, and which can produce tomatoes that are high-yielding and flavourful - but more expensive.Another chapter mentions in passing the cautionary tale of Calgene and the Flavr-Savr tomato - the first genetically engineered tomato that was supposed to be longer-lasting. Unfortunately the lab-engineers didn't want to sell their baby, but instead insisted on going into farming with their 'improved' tomato, and subsequently went bust.There's also a discussion about the relative merits of 'heirloom' breeds and modern hybrids. Unfortunately my favourite tomato breeder, Harry Klee, only gets mentioned in passing. Personally I find his research very promising. - He has bred heirloom tomatoes with modern hybrids to create new varieties that are resistant to diseases, have great yield - and taste great!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Randal White

    As a tomato addict, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I currently have 30 tomato plants in my garden, with 18 different varieties. It's going to be quite the year of experimentation!Alexander offers an in-depth look into everything tomato related. In the first half, the book explores the history and culture of the tomato. The second half dives into the science of tomatoes. The breeding, the growing, and environmental factors. It's a great companion piece to the author's earlier book, "The $64 Toma As a tomato addict, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I currently have 30 tomato plants in my garden, with 18 different varieties. It's going to be quite the year of experimentation!Alexander offers an in-depth look into everything tomato related. In the first half, the book explores the history and culture of the tomato. The second half dives into the science of tomatoes. The breeding, the growing, and environmental factors. It's a great companion piece to the author's earlier book, "The $64 Tomato". Together they have pushed my interest (aka: obsession) to new levels. I will be keeping this book handy for future reviews, especially during the off-season when I can only dream about growing more tomatoes!Highly recommend to any gardener who loves tomatoes!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Saltygalreads

    The ubiquitous tomato as you have never experienced it before! Who knew there was so much to learn about the history of tomatoes? A fruit/vegetable that is omnipresent takes on new meaning in this fascinating nonfiction journey of the humble tomato over the centuries.William Alexander does a bang-up job of telling interesting tales about the tomato from the facts behind the San Marzano, to the tasteless and watery Florida tomato in your supermarket, to the tomato of the future, grown hydroponica The ubiquitous tomato as you have never experienced it before! Who knew there was so much to learn about the history of tomatoes? A fruit/vegetable that is omnipresent takes on new meaning in this fascinating nonfiction journey of the humble tomato over the centuries.William Alexander does a bang-up job of telling interesting tales about the tomato from the facts behind the San Marzano, to the tasteless and watery Florida tomato in your supermarket, to the tomato of the future, grown hydroponically in a massive greenhouse. He is a good storyteller and I thoroughly enjoyed learning all the juicy facts behind a food we take so much for granted.Many thanks to Grand Central Publishing for my copy to read and review. Added to my keeper shelf of nonfiction reads.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    Who knew that a book about tomatoes could be so engaging? (I did!) William Alexander's history is highly accessible and entertaining (it read like James May and the gang on Top Gear were doing a special on the fruit) and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it anyone.It's easy to forget that generations of farming has made the taste of our humble tomato radically different from the one that was first discovered in the early Americas, so I found it fascinating to learn about what it took to make it a Who knew that a book about tomatoes could be so engaging? (I did!) William Alexander's history is highly accessible and entertaining (it read like James May and the gang on Top Gear were doing a special on the fruit) and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it anyone.It's easy to forget that generations of farming has made the taste of our humble tomato radically different from the one that was first discovered in the early Americas, so I found it fascinating to learn about what it took to make it a culinary staple. And who wouldn't want to read the chapter about pizza? Fair warning: you'll be hungry long after you've closed this book.Thanks very much to Hachette Books/Grand Central Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    The tomato has a long history of bouncing between love and distrust that has continued to the present day and our disaffection with industrial foods. Alexander traces the history of tomato, how it came to Europe and then back to the US with many stops along the way... included some of the most famous tomato recipes. Why I started this book: I knew the beginning of the history of tomatoes and I thought it strange enough to be a delightful book...Why I finished it: Full of interesting histories an The tomato has a long history of bouncing between love and distrust that has continued to the present day and our disaffection with industrial foods. Alexander traces the history of tomato, how it came to Europe and then back to the US with many stops along the way... included some of the most famous tomato recipes. Why I started this book: I knew the beginning of the history of tomatoes and I thought it strange enough to be a delightful book...Why I finished it: Full of interesting histories and facts, Alexander also inserts himself into the narrative... and after I while, I needed a break. I did learn more about ketchup, and green houses than expected.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jocelyn

    While the book gives a good overview of how the tomato went from something thought to be poisonous to being almost everywhere, it was not as engaging as I had hoped. The author definitely likes word play as they keep sprinkling homonyms throughout the chapters. Its fine at first, but gets a bit annoying after a while. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review, but all views are my own.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    A pulpy, saucy, informative read. I'm a big fan of William Alexander's work and have read nearly all of his books. I found "Ten Tomatoes" to be well-written, well-researched, and, well, an all-around good read, though the last couple chapters made me question a lot of things. If you love tomatoes, tomato sauce, pizza, and/or ketchup, or just enjoy learning about the food(s) we eat, pick up "Ten Tomatoes that Changed the World." A pulpy, saucy, informative read. I'm a big fan of William Alexander's work and have read nearly all of his books. I found "Ten Tomatoes" to be well-written, well-researched, and, well, an all-around good read, though the last couple chapters made me question a lot of things. If you love tomatoes, tomato sauce, pizza, and/or ketchup, or just enjoy learning about the food(s) we eat, pick up "Ten Tomatoes that Changed the World."

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nick Ertz

    This was a fun romp through the history and lore of the tomato. I must say, that I learned quite a bit. The narrative style is conversational and easy to absorb. The history itself is surprising. I did not know that the tomato started its rise to stardom in the early 19th century. The author discusses several examples of tomatoes like the Roma and Beefsteak. He also explains why we love to hate the Florida tomato. Fun read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kate TerHaar

    The history of the tomato is fascinating. Not only is the origins of tomato usage explained but also tomato entrepreneurs such as Heinz, Monaghan, Campbell's and Chef Boyardee. Informative and very readable. Thank you, Net Galley and the publisher Grand Central Publishing for the opportunity to read and review Ten Tomatoes that Changed the World. The history of the tomato is fascinating. Not only is the origins of tomato usage explained but also tomato entrepreneurs such as Heinz, Monaghan, Campbell's and Chef Boyardee. Informative and very readable. Thank you, Net Galley and the publisher Grand Central Publishing for the opportunity to read and review Ten Tomatoes that Changed the World.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Joerg Rings

    A really interesting and very well researched social, cultural and culinary history of the tomato and the food it inspired. Minor issues are, biology/science is very handwavy because MASS APPEAL and the author tries a little hard too be funny, a bit too often landing where dad jokes would be an improvement. But other than that, an easy read and almost entirely very engaging.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Zachary Mezz

    Definitely some valuable information regarding the rise of tomatoes from object of disgust to object of glorification, but Alexander's cringeworthy comments concerning Kavanaugh, Trump, and of course the vague blathering regarding climate change that seems indispensable to all books these days turned me off. Definitely some valuable information regarding the rise of tomatoes from object of disgust to object of glorification, but Alexander's cringeworthy comments concerning Kavanaugh, Trump, and of course the vague blathering regarding climate change that seems indispensable to all books these days turned me off.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    Ok I did learn some things I didn’t know but have to admit this book was a struggle to finish. An author who keeps telling the reader that he is not a good writer is not a winning way to keep a reader. Between that and his attempts to be wryly humorous in the mode of a wanna be Bill Bryson really wore me down. Really wish he had stuck to tomatoes.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    Fun and informative. The author has a passion for digression but it's all in good fun. Fun and informative. The author has a passion for digression but it's all in good fun.

  20. 4 out of 5

    MK LaFs

    Started this on the plane back from vegas which was a weird choice but very fun. Learned a lot and reminded me about the importance of gardening and seed preservation 🍅

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