Book Review: Ten Tomatoes That Changed The World by William Alexander

Book Review: Ten Tomatoes That Changed The World by William Alexander

Hello, my lovely peeps🐥!
It’s review day and for today, I have something special!

Nonfiction, in itself, is already a genre that I don’t read too often, having only started to really enjoy and crave them in the last few months; mostly sticking to autobiographies, travel, and animal related books like memoirs of someone’s beloved pet. Even amongst nonfiction, and the smaller subgenres I’d mentioned just now, this is a rarity, but I really enjoyed my book and hope that my review reflects the same.

Book Title: Ten Tomatoes that Changed the World: A History
Author: William Alexander
Length: 320 Pages
Published: June 7th, 2022
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genres: Nonfiction, History > Microhistory, Science, Food and Drink, Nature

Disclaimer: Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for this gifted copy! All opinions are of my own.

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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 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.

Here’s a little note to summarize my enjoyment of the book: Let’s just say, my mum is mighty happy that I’m done reading this little guy. She’s tired of me opening my mouth just to have the word tomato tumble out. (Listen…I just went through a crazy pasta journey, another of a tomato paste journey, and another about pizza…I have to share it with someone before I explode!)

In Ten Tomatoes That Changed The World: A History by William Alexander, we have ten chapters that revolve around the lovely little fruit/veggie. And yes, there is in fact a little section in there that even goes into explaining why many people consider this (botanically speaking) fruit, a veggie, and it goes all the way up into the Supreme Courts! This comes after a story (though there’s skepticism around it) of an American who stood on the steps of a Salem, New Jersey county courthouse and downed an entire bucket of tomatoes, to the gasping and fainting crowds below, during a time when most people still considered it an unsafe fruit, to prove that not only was the tomato safe to eat, but it was indeed very very delicious! (You, sir, are my hero).

The book starts with where the tomato originated from. A native plant to South America, the Aztecs had already been using it in their cooking and have been cultivating the plant for a long time, until the Spanish conquistador, Hernando Cortés, captured the city of Tenochtitlan, came across the fruit, brought it back to Europe where it was then introduced to Italy and the other European countries. Another section, that follows, includes the etymology of the word tomato as well as a why its scientific name is Solanum lycopersicum. It also begins with how most people in Europe would eye this new fruit as dangerous (for many good reasons) and how it did not begin as an edible plant, but more of a decorative and ornamental one! From there, it really has had quite the journey from people being weary of it to happily putting them on their dinner plate. Oh, how its publicity has changed since then!

Outside a good load of tomato facts, there are other pieces of history that are either crucial because of or to tomatoes that are also present in this book. Sometimes a chapter is revolved completely around it, such as my favorite chapter of the history of Heinz and his rollercoaster of trial and errors with ketchup, how he struggled and worked hard to keep on top of a battle with making sure his ketchup were as preservatives free as possible.

There are also chapters that revolved around machinery for tomato farms, as well as a small history behind canneries. There’s the story of the birth of Campbell’s Tomato soup, another of a soap opera life for an important man, the beginnings of pizza and spaghetti, and even how tomatoes have gone from grandma’s delicious garden tomatoes to the now bland and tasteless versions you may see in your fast food orders.

This book really goes into detail through it all, and not once was I bored. The beginning was interesting, the history of pasta, ketchup, and pizza was interesting, and even the genetics chapters were interesting. You would’ve never caught me paying half as much attention in actual history or science class as I did with this book. William Alexander has a lovely writing voice and I really enjoyed this book. I may never look at a tomato the same way again. It’s just so special and the plant, as a specie, has been through so much experience and changes through history, it’s remarkable, and the book was a fascinating read. I would recommend this book if you enjoy the history of food, love science (botany, agriculture and horticulture especially), and microhistory (a subgenre that I haven’t even heard of until now!).


9 thoughts on “Book Review: Ten Tomatoes That Changed The World by William Alexander

    1. “Toma-” “STOP!” “-toooee. Mom wanna know what I learned in today’s chapter??” 😂 I do it often when I end up with nonfictions that are fact heavy. I’m glad I’m not the only one!

      Liked by 1 person

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