What do Americans think of when they think of the hamburger? A robust, succulent spheroid of fresh ground beef, the birthright of red-blooded citizens? Or a Styrofoam-shrouded Big Mac, mass-produced to industrial specifications and served by wage slaves to an obese, brainwashed population? Is it cooking or commodity? An icon of freedom or the quintessence of conformity?
This fast-paced and entertaining book unfolds the immense significance of the hamburger as an American icon. Josh Ozersky shows how the history of the burger is entwined with American business and culture and, unexpectedly, how the burger’s story is in many ways the story of the country that invented (and reinvented) it.
Spanning the years from the nineteenth century with its waves of European immigrants to our own era of globalization, the book recounts how German “hamburg steak” evolved into hamburgers for the rising class of urban factory workers and how the innovations of the White Castle System and the McDonald’s Corporation turned the burger into the Model T of fast food. The hamburger played an important role in America’s transformation into a mobile, suburban culture, and today, America’s favorite sandwich is nothing short of an irrepressible economic and cultural force. How this all happened, and why, is a remarkable story, told here with insight, humor, and gusto.
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An American cultural historian and recognized authority on food, Josh Ozersky is food editor/online for New York Magazine. He has written for The
New York Times, the New York Post, Saveur, and many other publications. His books include Meat Me in Manhattan: A Carnivore’s Guide to New York and Archie Bunker’s America: TV in an Era of Changing Times. He lives in New York City.Review:
“There have been many books written about hamburgers, but none have placed hamburger mania into an American cultural context as does Josh Ozersky’s The Hamburger.”—Andrew Smith, editor, Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink
"When I want to know about hamburgers, Josh Ozersky is the man I turn to."—Morgan Spurlock, director of Super Size Me (Morgan Spurlock)
"This book is too good and too smart to be categorized as mere 'food writing.' It's like a meeting between Jane & Michael Stern and Ken Burns: bright, funny pop commentary mixed with vivid, rigorously reported American history. All compactly served on a golden-brown bun!"—David Kamp, author of The United States of Arugula
"Josh Ozersky is a cultural historian whose appetite for life and passion for eating have landed him in the heart of the food world. When he focuses on a single American icon, like the hamburger, we can trust him to take us on a delicious journey. This is my favorite book about the burger to come along!"—Daniel Boulud, Chef/Restaurateur (Daniel Boulud)
"A sexy little volume on the history of the patty from its 18th-century beginnings to its postwar boom thanks to White Castle."—Rachel Wharton, New York Daily News (Rachel Wharton New York Daily News)
"A must read for any like-minded eaters."—Midtown Lunch (Midtown Lunch 2008-04-21)
"This entertaining and informative book, which traces the burger's evolution from working man's snack during the Depression to symbol of American corporatism, is nothing less than a brief history of America in the 20th century."—The Economist (The Economist 2008-04-24)
"Lively, well-reported. . . . A tasty cultural history that appreciates the sizzle and symbolism of its subject."—Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today (Bob Minzesheimer USA Today 2008-05-08)
"Short but comprehensive, heavy with interesting detail about the habits of American diners and restaurateurs."—Graeme Wood, The Atlantic Monthly (Graeme Wood The Atlantic Monthly 2008-05-19)
"Hugely satisfying. . . . Both scholarly and witty."—Daniel Okrent, Fortune (Daniel Okrent Fortune 2008-04-14)
"Ozersky helps to put American history in the context of the hamburger's life story. Or is it the other way around? No matter, it's a fascinating look at one of our favorite things."—Gwyneth Doland, Fiery Foods & BBQ (Gwyneth Doland Fiery Foods & BBQ 2008-05-01)
"The book is more than an overview of the sandwich; it is an impassioned argument for its significance in American culture and a celebration of its power."—New York Magazine (New York Magazine 2008-03-31)
"Filled with anecdotes and enthusiasm, this book does what very few can do: it makes you hungry."—Kevin Lauderdale, Author Magazine (Kevin Lauderdale Author Magazine 2008-03-18)
"Authoritative [and] impressively detailed."—Frank Bruni, Diners Journal (Frank Bruni Diner's Journal 2008-05-02)
"Ozersky tells a taut tale of the sandwich's Diaspora and hand-to-mouth existence. . . . Ozersky's unusual blend of passion and common sense sets his book apart from others of its kind."—Ted Anthony, San Francisco Chronicle (Ted Anthony San Francisco Chronicle 2008-06-26)
"Ozersky's little ode to joy on a bun is social history at its most flexible. . . .Ozersky's inquisitive mind and evocative prose will get the juices flowing and your mouth watering."—Robert Leiter, Jewish Exponent (Robert Leiter Jewish Exponent 2008-07-03)
"[S]erves up a fast-paced and amusing account of how German 'hamburg steak' evolved into hamburgers for urban factory workers, became an irrepressible economic and cultural force, and played a role in the suburbanization of America."—Joshua Glenn, Boston Globe (Brainiac Summer Reading) (Joshua Glenn Boston Globe 2008-06-27)
"A short, utterly brilliant chronicle of this storied American morsel. . . . Ozersky himself brings the story on to the brothers McDonald, Ray Kroc, the hamburger wars, and down to today, briskly, astutely, and engagingly."—Katherine A. Powers, Boston Sunday Globe (Katherine A. Powers Boston Sunday Globe 2008-08-24)
"Colorful reading. . . . This is a country that needed something to unite it, and, however improbably, Ozersky convinces us that the hamburger has done just that. " —Holly Brubach, New York Times Magazine
(Holly Bruback New York Times Magazine)
"Ozersky's book is part biographical sketches of the great hamburger men and part American culture. . . . [H]e attempts to answer why the hamburger caught on in America and what kind of icon the burger business and the burger provide."—Rosalind Early, Belles Lettres (Rosalind Early Belles Lettres)
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