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What the Great Ate: A Curious History of Food and Fame

What the Great Ate: A Curious History of Food and Fame

by Matthew Jacob, Mark Jacob

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What was eating them? And vice versa.
In What the Great Ate, Matthew and Mark Jacob have cooked up a bountiful sampling of the peculiar culinary likes, dislikes, habits, and attitudes of famous—and often notorious—figures throughout history. Here is food
• As code: Benito Mussolini used the phrase “we’re making spaghetti” to inform his wife if he’d be (illegally) dueling later that day.
• As superstition: Baseball star Wade Boggs credited his on-field success to eating chicken before nearly every game.
• In service to country: President Thomas Jefferson, America’s original foodie, introduced eggplant to the United States and wrote down the nation’s first recipe for ice cream.
From Emperor Nero to Bette Davis, Babe Ruth to Barack Obama, the bite-size tidbits in What the Great Ate will whet your appetite for tantalizing trivia.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307461964
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/13/2010
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 812,734
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

MATTHEW JACOB’s opinion columns have been published by the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Boston Globe, and other print and online media. Visit his popular food blog at

MARK JACOB, deputy metro editor at the Chicago Tribune, was part of the team that won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism. He is the author of the newspaper’s popular “10 Things You Might Not Know” feature. This is his fourth book.

Read an Excerpt


1. Elvis Presley once flew more than 800 miles just to eat a sandwich. But what a sandwich: The "Fool's Gold" was an entire loaf of Italian bread hollowed out and stuffed with peanut butter, grape jelly, and a pound of bacon.

2. Author Vladimir Nabokov ate butterflies and said they tasted "like almonds and perhaps a green cheese combination."

3. Alexander the Great banned his soldiers from chewing on mint leaves, fearing that they would become sexually excited and unable to fight effectively.

4. Pudgy soprano Maria Callas became a glamorous star after losing weight because she ate a tapeworm — either accidentally or, some say, on purpose.

5. To help prepare boxer Joe Louis for a match, his trainer sometimes took him to Chicago's stockyards to drink blood fresh from the slaughterhouse.

6. During a visit to northern Italy, Thomas Jefferson was so taken with the local rice that he hired a laborer to help him smuggle two sacks of rice out of the region — a crime punishable by death.

7. Maya Lin came up with her concept for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial when she fashioned a model out of mashed potatoes in a Yale University cafeteria.

8. Actor Paul Newman was so obsessed with the perfect salad dressing that during a dinner date at a restaurant, he carried his salad into the men's room, washed it clean and returned to the table to re-dress it himself.

9. Astronaut John Young smuggled a corned beef sandwich into space in 1965.

10. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ate lunch in the same hotel restaurant every workday for twenty years.

11. Sacagawea, a Shoshone guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition, was experiencing a difficult childbirth when Meriwether Lewis tried an Indian folk remedy, giving her crushed rattlesnake rattle in water. She drank it up, and quickly gave birth.

12. Henry Ford feared that the sharp crystals of granulated sugar would cause internal bleeding in his stomach.

13. Salvador Dali painted a picture of his wife with a lamb chop on each shoulder, and later explained: "I liked my wife, and I liked chops, and I saw no reason why I should not paint them together."

14. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, the brilliant Confederate general, is often described as sucking on lemons during battle. But in fact that rarely happened, and his favorite fruit was peaches, not lemons.

15. The Supreme Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, died soon after eating a dish called "pig's delight." Scholars have long debated whether it was pork or was instead a food delightful to pigs, such as truffles, roots, or mushrooms.

16. Saddam Hussein loved Kellogg's Raisin Bran Crunch cereal. One morning, when soldiers brought the captured dictator a different cereal, he protested: "No Froot Loops!"

17. The microwave oven might never have been invented had a candy bar not melted in Raytheon engineer Percy Spencer's pocket as he tested a tube used in radar.

18. Amelia Earhart 's manager-husband insisted that she sign ten autographs before having her orange juice at breakfast and then sign fifteen more before moving on to her bacon and eggs.

19. After Tsung-Dao Lee won the Nobel Prize in physics, a sign went up at his favorite Chinese restaurant in New York. It read: "Eat here, win Nobel Prize."

20. No matter what actress Judy Garland ordered at MGM Studios cafeteria, the staff was instructed to serve her only chicken soup with matzo balls — the reason why Garland called it a "prisoner's menu."

21. Actress Angelina Jolie praised a Cambodian delicacy she ate as a "high-protein snack food." It was otherwise known as cockroaches.

22. While working in a restaurant, George Soros was told that if he played his cards right, he had a bright future ahead of him — as assistant headwaiter.

23. Explorers Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay dined on chicken noodle soup and canned apricots before reaching the summit of Mount Everest. Then Norgay buried pieces of chocolate in the snow as tribute for the gods.

24. South Korean researchers spent millions of dollars perfecting a special version of the national cabbage dish, kimchi, for astronaut Yi So-yeon to eat aboard the International Space Station.

25. Novelist William Faulkner had a simple explanation for why he declined a dinner invitation from First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy: "That's a long way to go just to eat."

Table of Contents

Introduction vii

Chapter 1 Chicken à la King 1

The world's most powerful rulers ate with authority

Chapter 2 Eating Their Words 31

Writers plotted a novel approach to dining

Chapter 3 Soul Food 59

Prophets and philosophers didn't live on bread alone

Chapter 4 What Edvard Munched 82

Visual artists mixed palettes and palates

Chapter 5 Hail to the Beef 100

Dining was drama from Washington to Obama

Chapter 6 Dinner Theater 124

Stage and screen stars were showy eaters

Chapter 7 General Foods 149

For history's warriors, rations were sometimes irrational 149

Chapter 8 Experiments in Dining 170

Food was a stimulus to the scientific method

Chapter 9 Singing for Their Supper 190

Musicians kept their cooking in concert

Chapter 10 Business Lunch 209

Entrepreneurs were eccentric eaters

Chapter 11 Playing with Their Food 231

Sports stars feasted on more than peanuts and Cracker Jacks

Chapter 12 Delicious Discoveries 258

Explorers plunged into uncharted meals

Acknowledgments 279

Selected Bibliography 281

Index 301

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