Friday, March 31, 2017

Myths, History, Science: "The Story of Corn"

The Story of Corn by Betty Fussell was first published in 1992 in a beautifully designed edition with many illustrations. Books about a single food topic have become very popular more recently: this was one of the first of its type. Mark Kurlansky's book Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, which was published in 1997, is often credited with "inventing" this genre, but it was far from the earliest such book, and though I enjoyed Cod, I don't know why he gets the credit.

The Story of Corn is reasonably well-organized, extremely detailed to the point of being encyclopedic, and not at all badly written. It describes and illustrates everything you could think of from the Maya corn gods to modern advertisements and agricultural issues.

Images come from a wide variety of times, places, and sources.
This 19th C. drawing shows a woman in Eastern Europe stirring a pot of mush,
also called mamaliga, pulszka, or polenta. 
Each chapter begins with a very beautiful page, often incorporating drawings from pre-Columbian Indian art.
The Story of Corn remains in print, reissued by the University of New Mexico press. The description from calls the book "a unique compendium, drawing upon history and mythology, science and art, anecdote and image, personal narrative and epic to tell the extraordinary story of the grain that built the New World."

The wide-format pages allow for lots of white space and illustrations.
I find only one thing wrong with this book: it's boring. At least that's my gut feeling. I read half of it, put it down, and I just can't seem to pick it up again. Classics can be like that.


Beth F said...

I vaguely remember this Fussell book. Too bad it's boring. Cod was anything but.

Katherine P said...

I'm listening to Bill Bryson's At Home which is basically the history of the house and he spent quite some time on corn in the kitchen chapter. It was interesting but I can see where this book could drift over to boring. That's a lot of page space devoted to corn! I'm not sure I'd pick it back up either.