Book Notes: Apple, A Global History, by Erika Janik

Feature image - Apple by Erika Janik
Apple, A Global History by Erika Janik, published by Reaktion Books

Apple, A Global History (2011) by Erika Janik – part of Reaktion Books’ ‘Edibles’ series – is a slight, slender book that touches lightly on a number of apple-themed topics. Chapters on the history, mythology, global distribution and health benefits of the apple are accompanied by ones on cider making and selecting apple trees to grow, and there’s a small selection of apple recipes to finish things off. It’s… okay, if a very quick intro to the fascinating world of apple culture is what you’re after.

However, a lot of the details and assertions in the book are unsubstantiated and a lack of cited sources means that it’s very difficult to cross-check or follow-up on the more intriguing (or slightly spurious-sounding) notes, facts and claims. I’m not blaming the author for the lack of detail, I think they did a good job of covering the basics within the short page- and word-count proscribed by the ‘Edibles’ series format. But it’s still likely to be rather frustrating reading experience for anyone who wants to take more than a cursory look at the history and culture of the apple. And doubly frustrating if, like me, you know that this same information is covered in far more depth and detail elsewhere.

Not too far away, either. Because Reaktion Books also publishes a second series, ‘Botanical’, and in that series is another, much better book entitled Apple, this time by Marcia Reiss (see my earlier Book Notes post for details). Published in 2015, in this later volume, the author is granted around twice the page count and is therefore able to explore very similar topics within the broader subject area in far more satisfying detail, and all for the only slightly higher cover price of £16.[1]

I have to say, it does seem a bit off for Reaktion to keep the earlier – far less informative and therefore less valuable – volume in print, tempting the unwary apple enthusiast into spending almost the same amount of their hard-earned on what amounts to an less useful version of the more detailed book. I worked in book publishing for a number of years, for companies large and small, so I do realise there’s a need to sell through the print run of the earlier title – return on investment is vital for any publisher, of course – but there really ought to be some sort of warning, on the publisher’s website at least, that Apple, A Global History has been effectively superseded by the later work, pointing anyone with a genuine interest in the history of the apple in that direction instead.

To summarise: if you’re looking for a comprehensive overview of the social and cultural history of the apple, I’d actually recommend Joan Morgan’s New Book of Apples (2002) [rrp £45.00 Amazon approx.£27.99] which has 160 large format pages of apple history and a 120 page apple directory, plus extras. Either that or, if you’re looking for an in-depth history of the apple in a less costly format, then Apple (2015) by Marcia Reiss [rrp £16.00 Amazon approx. £11.99] is a good investment. I for one found it hugely enjoyable.

If you’re looking to complete your set of Reaktion’s ‘Edible’ series, then by all means go ahead and buy Apples, A Global History (2011) [rrp £11.99 Amazon approx. £8.99]. Honestly though, I don’t think there’s a good enough reason to buy this one other than to finish off your collection.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 I’ve just checked and the same seems to apply to Berries, A Global History (Edible series) by Heather Arndt Anderson (176 pages, £11.99, April 2018) and Berries (Botanical series) by Victoria Dickenson (208 pages, £16.00, October 2020). I’ve bought both of those titles in the past as well, although I haven’t read them yet. Hopefully the content of each will be different enough to justify the double-spend this time.

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