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Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World

4.2 25
by Dan Koeppel

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Read Dan Koeppel's posts on the Penguin Blog.

A gripping biological detective story that uncovers the myth, mystery, and endangered fate of the world’s most humble fruit

To most people, a banana is a banana: a simple yellow fruit. Americans eat more bananas than apples and oranges combined. In others parts of the world, bananas are


Read Dan Koeppel's posts on the Penguin Blog.

A gripping biological detective story that uncovers the myth, mystery, and endangered fate of the world’s most humble fruit

To most people, a banana is a banana: a simple yellow fruit. Americans eat more bananas than apples and oranges combined. In others parts of the world, bananas are what keep millions of people alive. But for all its ubiquity, the banana is surprisingly mysterious; nobody knows how bananas evolved or exactly where they originated. Rich cultural lore surrounds the fruit: In ancient translations of the Bible, the “apple” consumed by Eve is actually a banana (it makes sense, doesn’t it?). Entire Central American nations have been said to rise and fall over the banana.

But the biggest mystery about the banana today is whether it will survive. A seedless fruit with a unique reproductive system, every banana is a genetic duplicate of the next, and therefore susceptible to the same blights. Today’s yellow banana, the Cavendish, is increasingly threatened by such a blight—and there’s no cure in sight.

Banana combines a pop-science journey around the globe, a fascinating tale of an iconic American business enterprise, and a look into the alternately tragic and hilarious banana subculture (one does exist)—ultimately taking us to the high-tech labs where new bananas are literally being built in test tubes, in a race to save the world’s most beloved fruit.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The world's most humble fruit has caused inordinate damage to nature and man, and Popular Sciencejournalist Koeppel (To See Every Bird on Earth) embarks on an intelligent, chock-a-block sifting through the havoc. Seedless, sexless bananas evolved from a wild inedible fruit first cultivated in Southeast Asia, and was probably the "apple" that got Adam and Eve in trouble in the Garden of Eden. From there the fruit traveled to Africa and across the Pacific, arriving on U.S. shores probably with the Europeans in the 15th century. However, the history of the banana turned sinister as American businessmen caught on to the marketability of this popular, highly perishable fruit then grown in Jamaica. Thanks to the building of the railroad through Costa Rica by the turn of the century, the United Fruit company flourished in Central America, its tentacles extending into all facets of government and industry, toppling "banana republics" and igniting labor wars. Meanwhile, the Gros Michel variety was annihilated by a fungus called Panama disease (Sigatoka), which today threatens the favored Cavendish, as Koeppel sounds the alarm, shuttling to genetics-engineering labs from Honduras to Belgium. His sage, informative study poses the question fairly whether it's time for consumers to reverse a century of strife and exploitation epitomized by the purchase of one banana. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Nature and science writer Koeppel (To See Every Bird on Earth, 2005) chronicles the banana's history, from early cultivation to modern popularization, and suggests ways to save it from extinction. Expanded from an article originally published in Popular Science, the narrative covers the fruit's biblical roots (that forbidden treat Eve plucked may not have been an apple), the history of exploitative "banana republics" and the fruit's present precarious state. Ancient hunter-gatherers probably ate the subterranean part of the banana plant, the corm; the wild fruit, itself was inedible, with rock-hard seeds. Cultivation of mutated forms eventually yielded sweeter, bigger fruit, and the crop became a staple throughout Southeast Asia, Malaysia, southern China and the Philippines. Over thousands of years, the fruit crossed the Pacific to Africa, where the word for "food" and "banana" is the same in many regions. Once bananas arrived in the New World-via Polynesian sailors-they soon evolved from a luxury food into a necessity, as entrepreneurs figured out how to grow them in Central America and transport them by ship and rail in refrigerated containers that kept them fresh for the huge U.S. market. United Fruit (later Chiquita), founded in 1899, entered with other companies into an ever-deepening cycle of exploitation, violence and revolution in Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala. Tracing the banana's journey, Koeppel jumps around somewhat breathlessly. He travels from the genetic labs of Leuven, Belgium, to India's bustling markets, which sell more banana varieties than anywhere else. At his local Whole Foods in Los Angeles, he samples the exotic Caribbean-grown Lacatan variety, which he believeswill take over the world. A tenacious blight called Panama Disease threatens today's ubiquitous Cavendish banana, which gained ascendancy after the Gros Michel variety died out in the 1960s. The author crams an awful lot of information into brief chapters, but his evident interest in the subject will keep readers engaged. A lively, well-modulated survey. Agent: Laurie Liss/Sterling Lord Literistic Inc.
From the Publisher
"With his smooth baritone, [Paul Woodson] does an excellent job. His pronunciation is clear, and his pacing as always good." ---AudioFile

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Penguin Publishing Group
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Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Dan Koeppel, a 2011 James Beard Award winner, is a science and nature writer who has written for National Geographic, Outside, Scientific American, Wired, and other national publications. He has discussed bananas on NPR’s Fresh Air and Science Friday.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
TJA90 More than 1 year ago
Heard Koeppel interviewed on NPR and ordered this book straight away. Great read, engaging and tells a history of greed, war, fortunes and disasters this common little fruit has brought to the world. Great read!
drakevaughn More than 1 year ago
A fun read about the history of bananas and their uncertain future. Who knew anyone could fill an entire book about bananas, but somehow Koeppel managed to do it. Overall, it felt like an extended version of a magazine article, similar to those lengthy ones in the New Yorker. Indeed, some parts felt as though they were added just to pad the book, but others were quite fascinating. I was already well aware of the politics behind banana production and its imperialistic roots, but Koeppel does a great job expanding on the subject. Likewise, the modern plagues threatening the bananas’ survival was new to me and quite fascinating. Overall, it was a quick and interesting read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very interesting and for the most part easy to read. Who knew this unassuming fruit had such a complex history? I group this book with "Fast Food Nation" and "Nickel and Dimed", they should all be required reading.
Ian_Mule More than 1 year ago
I am a geography professor. This book would be a great book for an AP human geography class or for a broad-field social studies geography class. It covers a lot of themes, including: medical geography, agricultural diffusion, political geography, economic development, labor issues, and popular culture (i.e., getting people to consume bananas). The Anonymous Reviewer (the third one on here that gave it one star) that says the author is pessimistic probably didn't read the book. He implies that the author states things that are never stated in the book. The book is not about how dangerous Genetically Modified Foods are. (I agree they probably aren't.) Nor does it only harp on how evil the fruit companies are -- they admittedly were terrible but the author sees them as less so now. Finally, the author certainly doesn't recommend not eating the banana... I don't understand what that reviewer was getting at with his petulant "eat a banana" comment. Finally, most of the book is about how difficult the banana is to genetically modify unlike most other crops, which the third Anonymous Reviewer apparently has no grasp of because s/he didn't read the book. The downside of this book is that it is "uniquely organized" and some chapters just kind of fall into your lap. In fact, my hunch is the author wrote the book as a series of essays that would work on their own in case the publisher turned down the manuscript. Still, it is a marvelous tale and full of geographic concepts. Probably overstates the importance of the banana, but hell, why not?! Everyone loves bananas!!! :>) Great for advanced teen readers.
somanybooks2enjoy More than 1 year ago
I only read this book because I belong to a book club, and one of the members chose it. Banana was very informative and thought provoking. I now know more about the banana than I'll ever need to know. I enjoyed the history information the most and the impact this crop has had, both negative and positive, on the countries that produce it. The scientific information became a bit distracting, for me, and the sequencing was very confusing at times. Our book club had fun discussing Banana and we shared a great meal together, with of course, some banana dishes served. I don't recommend banana beer!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hi! And, no, I am not jadeblaze. I vaugly remember them.
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I luv shem
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Turtle soup
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reclines on a velvet couch in a royal blue halter dress.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This fascinating book provides us with an in-depth detailed look on a unique topic most of us don't know a penny's worth about. Who knew a banana could change people's lives so dramatically? I know I sure didn't until I read this book! One can't help but be amazed by the research done about a little yellow fruit by one man. He has truly changed the way I look at bananas.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lol. I wish i could)) he continues to f.Uck her ass. (Gtgtb :( tell meh dismays thoughts tomorrow about the lyrics im having karmy post)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I got sleepy.)))) She stopped to take in air from nearly making herself faint.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Banannas are a good source of potasium. Always bring a bananna to a party.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Welcome to my den
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Waits for everyone to arrive.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There is no important info
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr Koppel's book is fastidiuos with a pessimist and dramatic look on food and business. He states that Bananas are doomed and will disappear in the near future subdued by Sigatoka fungus and the Panama disease but I wonder, why did he not say anything about bananas surviving thousand of years being a seedless, sterile and perennial plant? why did he not expand on the bananas' food value? Thank God we have hope, for years scientists have study and reserach different ways on how to genetically modify bananas (and other crops) to make them better and resistent to fungus and plagues in aid of world hunger (but then, Koppel diverts focus on the negative and not proven statements of the few who think that genetically modified food could make people ill) What can you expect from a pessimist writer who does not have a Business and/or Agricultural degree and who probably chose the topic not because he likes bananas with his cereal but to make money retelling the dark side story of a Fruit company already exploited by many authors, news papers and magazines. Koeppel's lack of foresight prevents him from writting more details about the positive things the fruit industry is doing now (21st century) and the challenges they have to face against the European Trade. Mr Koppel, keep eating your Cavendish bananas they have potassium, have you ever thought about the food value of bananas? if not google it, do not bother looking for it in your book.