Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Taste of War

My "Snapshot" review appeared in Washington Independent Review of Books:

by Lizzie Collingham
634 pp.
This fascinating book about the role of food in World War II is exhaustively researched, well written in the way that British dons know how to write, and probably the definitive work on the subject. Collingham documents how the desire for food resources provided much of the motivation for going to war; how the need to feed both the military and civilians during the war dictated much of the strategy; and how a truly worldwide war radically disrupted a food-supply network that was already global in scope. She traces the successes and failures of various countries in coping with food supplies during the war — how Britain, for instance, kept civilians on the home front reasonably well fed but failed miserably in supplying the colonies and let millions in Bengal die of famine. She relates how the United States suffered virtually no rationing but developed methods of producing, processing and packaging food that have led to our current industrialized food supply. Because of the density of detail, this long book will appeal more to devotees of World War II history (who will see the conflict from a new perspective) and to those interested in the history of nutrition than to the general reader. The only real flaw perhaps is that the author’s narrow focus can be reductive: The reader could get the impression that Hitler went to war only to capture the grain fields in Ukraine or that the Allies’ entire shipping strategy was based on food supplies. But on the whole, Collingham provides new insights into an aspect of the war that movie dramas or standard histories rarely touch on: War or no war, people have to eat, a monumental challenge to leaders in every country.
Darrell Delamaide

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