The Propitious Esculent: The Potato in World History is a book by John Reader outlining the role of the potato (the esculent of the title) in world history.

The United Nations proclaimed 2008 the International Year of the Potato.[1] The potato has been present and influential during the major events in the last 500 years. These include the historical moments of discovery and culture change that have lead to the present globalized world. Potatoes had a single region of origin; how they moved from place to place has had an impact on the variety of tubers and the people and places that received them. Reader’s book aims to contextualize the potato in world history.

Reader presents the information and ideas in The Propitious Esculent building on the work of two important scholars: Redcliffe N. Salaman and William H. McNeill. In 1949 Salaman wrote a book, The History and Social Influence of the Potato. After publishing the very influential The Rise of the West (1963) and Plagues and Peoples (1976), McNeill published an essay called, “How the Potato Changed the World’s History” in 1999. Reader describes their contributions to the understandings of the development and role of the potato in the modern world. He then combines their publications with newly available information from the world of genetics and late 20th century history for a more complete understanding of the potato as a player on the world stage.

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