The Hungry Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World by Lizzie Collingham – review

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A colourful history of how Britain’s diet drove the rise of its empire sidesteps many unpalatable truths

Food history narratives sell only in the tiniest quantities in the UK, so any publisher contemplating such a proposal needs to find a marketing angle, one that resonates with contemporary issues perhaps, or addresses our national psyche.

In the cinema world, films such as Viceroy’s House, and Victoria & Abdul are testament to our enduring fascination with the British empire, the gift that keeps on giving. In the book world, empire nonfiction is another demonstrably commercial genre, and the latest title from distinguished historian Lizzie Collingham, The Hungry Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World – with its striking similarity to Niall Ferguson’s Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World – clearly aims for this market.

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