The Potato tells the story of how a lowly vegetable, once regarded as trash food, has had as revolutionary an impact on Western history as the railroad or the automobile. Using Ireland, England, France, and the United States as examples, the book shows how daily existence between the 1770s and the First World War would have been unrecognizable without the potato, perhaps impossible. A crucial ingredient in the dramatic social changes that accompanied the agricultural and industrial revolutions, the potato both shaped life and helped people cope--and when it failed, disaster resulted, as in Ireland. Once looked upon with scorn--peasants in eighteenth-century France had to be convinced that the ugly, misshapen thing wasn't poisonous--the potato became an everyday essential, without which the rapidly changing demands of modern life would have been that much harder to bear.
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In August 1914, the German Army invaded Belgium because the granite-block roads of Flanders and Brabant seemed to lead to Paris as veins lead toward the heart. The attack violated a treaty that the German chancellor likened to a "scrap of paper," prompting many foreigners to conclude that Germany did not respect international law. When the invaders shot thousands of civilians and burned and looted scores of towns, the news shocked a world that had taken European culture for granted. Allied propagandists invoked the "rape of Belgium" to claim that justice lay on their side, though they often argued the case by telling fables about "barbarians" who had done unspeakable things to women and children.
But no exaggeration was necessary. The real rape of Belgium lasted more than fifty months under an occupation that kept seven million people in fear for their lives, liberty, and property. The real rape had nothing to do with atrocities, real or imagined, but with routine terror and the mindset that condoned it, which put German crimes on another level.
This book shows why the crimes matter, what legacy they left, and why they offer a new way to look at the First World War.