Saturday, December 17, 2011

Their Last Suppers, by Andrew Caldwell


Ever wonder what a person's last meal was?  We often hear of death row inmates requesting a special last meal.  Many people never realize that their last meal is in fact the last, but it is still interesting to see what they had.  Explore the final repast of many people throughout history, including Marylin Monroe, Abraham Lincoln, and Adolph Hitler.

The premise of this book is brilliant, being one part history book and one part cookbook.  I think this idea is so clever, and particularly like that some of the more antiquated recipes are adapted for current preparation.  Each chapter talks about a specific historical figure, gives a bit of backstory, then discusses the final meal before giving recipes from the menu.  It sounds like a no fail book.

Unfortunately, I have some pretty serious problems with the book.  Within the first two pages of the introduction, I found multiple typos and grammatical errors.  Normally, I am not a stickler for these, and rarely do I mention them in reviews, but when you are talking recipes with precise measurements, typos in any section of the book make me very nervous.  I would be livid if I bought pricey ingredients for a recipe, only to have it ruined by a typo.  Finding them so early in the text make me have a critical eye, and as a result, I found a lot of flaw with both the historic and culinary aspects of the book.  

Historically, the book seems to tout quite a few inaccuracies as truths, and contains no proof of research in the form of citations or footnotes.  This is a huge error when writing any type of historical work.  Even if the book is not attempting to be a strict, serious, scholarly historical work, if history is part of the selling point for the book, you should do historical research properly.  Similarly, I found some of the recipes to be incomplete, instructionally, and generally poorly written/explained.  I do not think I would feel comfortable attempting most of the recipes in this book.

The book is a bit of a let down.  Wonderful idea, but poorly executed.  With a bit better editing, and a considerable overhaul to the historical research, this book has the potential to be wonderful, appealing to historians and foodies alike.

This book is from my personal library.



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