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From the Italian ciambella in a 17th-century portrait of a young prince to the 1959 album Bagels and Bongos by pianist Irving Fields, journalist and BBC radio editor Balinska traces the cultural identity of a New York City icon from its humble beginnings in Poland to the freezer section of American supermarkets. Balinska's own interest in the bagel began with a year spent in Warsaw, Poland, as a graduate student, where she learned that her "own family history was relevant to that of the bagel." She then unearths a plethora of little-known facts about this breakfast staple, recounting its role in children's nursery rhymes, Poland's economic crisis of 1929, even its place in a McCall's magazine spread in 1963 next to Shirley Temple where the magazine encouraged its readers to "Join the stars below in this salute to Manhattan's most popular breakfast-bagels and lox." While the book may be too dry for the run-of-the- mill bagel lover, academics and dedicated foodies will appreciate Balinska's considerable research as well as her forays into the late 19th-century Jewish immigrant experience and American pop culture. Photos. (Nov.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.