This is a remarkably enjoyable book, with thoughtful if incomplete discussion of the history of key kitchen tools and concepts. It’s written in a light, friendly tone, with a practical outlook on things like refrigerator technology and the number of tines on a fork. The title caught my attention, and I expected good things, but I was pleasantly surprised by just how engaging Wilson’s prose is. Though the chapters are largely discrete, and she hops backward and forward among time frames and topics within them, it’s never hard to follow the thread, and always interesting.
Wilson’s history is very Western-focused – the UK and US especially – but she does make an effort here and there to include other cultures, and China in particular (e.g., in the chapter on knives). I wish she’d extended that range all through the book (e.g., the chapter on preservation), and what there is feels a little forced, but I was still glad to read it.
Wilson’s on firm ground until the last chapter, “Kitchen”, where she implicitly recognizes a trap, but still falls into it. In short, for a book celebrating (usually) the development of tools to make cooking easier and better, she draws a line at the present, essentially saying “What we have now is good enough. No need for anything new. Refinement of existing tools is all we need.” Where previous chapters touting game-changing innovations like fire and refrigerators, now, apparently revolution is unnecessary. It’s – as she herself accepts in passing – classic conservatism, much like that of the past cultures she smiles at who thought pots were an unnecessary affectation, preferring to cook in a hole in the ground.
Still, while the final chapter is a bit off-key, the book as a whole is light, fun, and well worth reading.