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Paperback Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization Book

ISBN: 0802139604

ISBN13: 9780802139603

Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization

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Book Overview

Tobacco was first cultivated and enjoyed by the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas, who used it for medicinal, religious, and social purposes long before the arrival of Columbus. But when Europeans began to colonize the American continents, it became something else entirely -- a cultural touchstone of pleasure and success, and a coveted commodity that would transform the world economy forever. Iain Gately's Tobacco tells the epic story of an unusual...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Smoking read!

La Diva Nicotina is a comprehensive narrative of tobacco usage by mankind as recorded in both written and oral history. The book covers the origins of tobacco use in the New World, its spread to the Old World via European explorers, and the transformation of tobacco business from family-owned plots to multinational corporations. Along the way, the book highlights the various ways governments have alternated between trying to stem the flow of its use, and trying to maximize its use as a way to improve tax reveneus. The book covers the science behind tobacco. It shows the different processes used to convert the tobacco plant to consumer products. It also explains the effects nicotine has on human bodies, and how this is affected by the many additives often incorporated into cigarettes. The book describes the agriculture of tobacco, and clearly shows how this lent itself to slave labor in contrast with many other crops. The book includes numerous anecdotes of individuals involved in the history of tobacco, such as the Turkish ruler who would prowl his city streets in disguise asking pedestrians for an illegal smoke, and then beheade those kind enough and unfortunate enough to offer him the banned substance. All in all, a great history book.

A very engaging narrative

As someone interested in the history of tobacco and cigarettes who has read a few tomes on these subjects, I can say that this one, while not as in-depth as some, certainly covers it all. This is a very engaging read and worth the paltry price for anyone interested in the subject. The information on tobacco chewing in the US in the 1800's is wonderful. The bibliography is also very good, as well as the appendix on tobacco cultivation, curing and manufacturing. This is definitely the kind of book you want to reread and refer to at regular intervals. Cheap at twice the price.

Fascinating, informative and in-depth

A stimulant employed for medicinal and ritual usages by Native American cultures going back thousands of years, it was the coming of the Europeans that enabled tobacco to become a part of every culture in the world and through 20th Century advertising practices, to become an established cultural icon even while being discovered as the source of numerous, often lethal, ailments for its habituated and addicted users. Tobacco: A Cultural History Of How An Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization by journalist Iain Gately is a fascinating, informative and in-depth look at the addictive and deadly drug that has become intertwined with the American way of life throughout the centuries. Individual chapters discuss everything from ancient use of tobacco among native peoples to how tobacco is grown today. A compelling, meticulously researched, occasionally humorous and always well written read, Tobacco is strongly recommended for both school and library collections.

Enjoyable read; smoking jacket is optional

Both early and near the end of TOBACCO: A CULTURAL HISTORY OF HOW AN EXOTIC PLANT SEDUCED CIVILIZATION, the book offers some strong opinions on the "evil weed". King James I was the first anti-smoking crusader and set a standard for vituperation which nobody can match today. After correctly stating how harmful it is to brain and lungs, he casts it back to the depths whence it came. Gately says the King believed it "had a family tie to witchcraft" and was "the black, stinking fume thereof nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless." In the latter chapters, Gately highlights the modern day demonization of the weed by way of law suits against the tobacco companies and criticisms by health professionals. Gately remains very balanced with his analysis and states that both sides have been guilty of bad science with selective use of statistics. He only gets fired up like old King James (but on tobacco's side) when he discusses the fallacious arguments for a ban on smoking because of second-hand dangers to non-smokers. The majority of the book is a well researched, easy reading, sometimes humorous narrative about this long association between plant and man. Research traces tobacco's origins back some 5,000 years to the Andean highlands where it was used in shamanic rituals by South American natives. Gately's cultural history however is more concerned with the recent story; its conquest of Europe and the world in the last 500 years. When Europeans arrived in the new world they saw native Americans "drinking smoke" from long cigars and Gately says the first European smokers may have been Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres who picked up the habit on one of Columbus's voyages. As a smoker himself, Gately has no difficulty in explaining tobacco's charms. He writes about it as "a pleasure, a comforter and a friend" and for most of our history it seems many of us agreed. The French used it as a medicine and a cosmetic, colonial America used it in barter, others "found the habit strangely compulsive" and its use spread. It was not just smoking either. Royals snuffed and snorted, but it was also drunk, chewed, and in Victorian England taken as a type of enema. Among the various other uses are: disenfectant, currency, peace token, appetite suppressant, and the answer for many problems from boredom to the Plague. History is replete with many cruel ironies and tobacco's story is no different. It was once seen as a cure for cancer. Gately tells us that by the early 1600's the Virginia Company was established with the purpose of making a successful commercial venture out of our desire for the plant. Growing tobacco is a labor intensive business and while plant and land was abundant, labor was not. The origins of the African slave trade Gately argues can thus be linked to our fixation with tobacco. Since tobacco is the focus of this book we should not be surprised by the lack of mention of sugar and cotton. However the fact that these

A Lively History With a Remarkable Point of View

Tobacco is "certainly the most equivocal substance in daily human use," according to Iain Gately. His author photo shows him unequivocally smoking his cigar, and so you might expect that he would go easy on the weed in his book _Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization_ (Grove Press). For those who think that cigarettes are an unalloyed curse, some of his book will be difficult reading. No history of tobacco can ignore the many social and health costs connected to the drug, and Gately's does not. But American Indians were using it for centuries, and in the five centuries since the conquest of the Americas, tobacco has insinuated itself into every diverse culture; there must be a reason that the killer drug is regarded by millions as a pleasure and a comfort. In fact, there are lots of reasons which the plant has exploited, and so it has a rich and complex history. Gately has researched widely and told the history well.Tobacco has been part of human culture for about 18,000 years. It was cultivated in the Andes region about six thousand years ago, and only eventually smoked. "That lungs had a dual function - could be used for stimulation in addition to respiration - is one of the American continent's most significant contributions to civilization." The gift of dried tobacco leaves to Columbus in the Bahamas got thrown overboard; no one knew why the natives were getting rid of their tobacco leaves this way. The British took to snuff, in imitation of the fashionable French, but also smoked with pipes like the ones North American Indians used. The British were slow to follow the French in cigarette usage, for they were regarded as "a miserable apology" for the more manly pleasure of cigars or pipes; Oscar Wilde enjoyed horrifying society in many ways, and chain-smoking his effeminate cigarettes was one of them. All the nations of the world showed disgust at the particularly American practice of chewing tobacco and thereupon expectorating tinted spittle. Charles Dickens wrote, "In the courts of law, the judge has his spittoon, the crier his, the witness his, and the prisoner his; while the jurymen and the spectators are provided for, as so many men who in the course of nature must desire to spit incessantly." Modern advertising gets a good examination here; surprisingly, the Marlboro Man was originally no such thing; Philip Morris brought out Marlboros "Mild as May" in 1924, targeted for decent and respectable ladies. Gately's book has not been edited to be turned into an American version, so American readers will note a disproportionate number of anecdotes and facts from Europe. (An appendix even tells how Her Majesty's subjects can grow the plant in England for their own use.) He has some limp support of tobacco as a guard against such illnesses as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and too often his disdain for the anti-smoking movement is obvious. However, this is a great subject. The effects of tobacco
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