The Hamburger A History Josh Ozersky, Mark Crispin Miller

Icons of America
Publication date:
26 Jun 2009
Yale University Press
160 pages: 210 x 140mm
15 b-w illus.
Sales territories:
World excluding Australia and New Zealand

America has run on hamburgers for almost a century. This is the story of their sizzle and their symbolism, where they came from and how they conquered the world.

What do Americans think of when they think of the hamburger? A robust, succulent spheroid of fresh ground beef, the birthright of red-blooded citizens? Or a Styrofoam-shrouded Big Mac, mass-produced to industrial specifications and served by wage slaves to an obese, brainwashed population? Is it cooking or commodity? An icon of freedom or the quintessence of conformity?
This fast-paced and entertaining book unfolds the immense significance of the hamburger as an American icon. Josh Ozersky shows how the history of the burger is entwined with American business and culture and, unexpectedly, how the burger’s story is in many ways the story of the country that invented (and reinvented) it.
Spanning the years from the nineteenth century with its waves of European immigrants to our own era of globalization, the book recounts how German “hamburg steak” evolved into hamburgers for the rising class of urban factory workers and how the innovations of the White Castle System and the McDonald’s Corporation turned the burger into the Model T of fast food. The hamburger played an important role in America’s transformation into a mobile, suburban culture, and today, America’s favorite sandwich is nothing short of an irrepressible economic and cultural force. How this all happened, and why, is a remarkable story, told here with insight, humor, and gusto.

An American cultural historian and recognized authority on food, Josh Ozersky is food editor/online for New York Magazine. He has written for The

New York Times, the New York Post, Saveur, and many other publications. His books include Meat Me in Manhattan: A Carnivore’s Guide to New York and Archie Bunker’s America: TV in an Era of Changing Times. He lives in New York City.

?There have been many books written about hamburgers, but none have placed hamburger mania into an American cultural context as does Josh Ozersky?s The Hamburger.??Andrew Smith, editor, Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink

"When I want to know about hamburgers, Josh Ozersky is the man I turn to."?Morgan Spurlock, director of Super Size Me

"This book is too good and too smart to be categorized as mere 'food writing.' It's like a meeting between Jane & Michael Stern and Ken Burns: bright, funny pop commentary mixed with vivid, rigorously reported American history. All compactly served on a golden-brown bun!"?David Kamp, author of The United States of Arugula

"Josh Ozersky is a cultural historian whose appetite for life and passion for eating have landed him in the heart of the food world. When he focuses on a single American icon, like the hamburger, we can trust him to take us on a delicious journey. This is my favorite book about the burger to come along!"?Daniel Boulud, Chef/Restaurateur

"In a delicious page turner, Ozersky tracks the history of this American icon as a reflection and manifestation of American culture and capitalism. The reader will savor this witty and lively account."?Lois Gordon, author of Nancy Cunard and American Chronicle: Year by Year through the Twentieth Century 

"The book is more than an overview of the sandwich; it is an impassioned argument for its significance in American culture and a celebration of its power. . . . The real hero of the book is White Castle, which Ozersky credits with inventing the hamburger, for all intents and purposes, and 'bringing it to its God-like prominence.'"?New York Magazine

"The Hamburger is a short history of its topic. Scholarly, it succeeds in routing fact from legend while still maintaining a breezy tone. Filled with anecdotes and enthusiasm, this book does what very few can do: it makes you hungry."?Kevin Lauderdale, Author Magazine

"Ozersky traces the well-documented history of the hamburger, debunking many of the myths surrounding its nineteenth-century origins. . . . Ozersky's analysis of Burger King's and Wendy's differing strategies to make their burgers somehow distinctive within the American fast-food market makes for great reading."?Booklist

"A sexy little volume on the history of the patty from its 18th-century beginnings to its postwar boom thanks to White Castle."?Rachel Wharton, New York Daily News

"A must read for any like-minded eaters."?Midtown Lunch

"It's a work of research, of scholarship, in which historical trivia and gastro-socio-logical factoids are scattered like the sesame seeds on a Big Mac's bun. It treats the burger as a cultural prism. It measures Americans' accruing wealth over the Twentieth Century in burgers. . . . Authoritative [and] impressively detailed."?Frank Bruni, Diners Journal

"This entertaining and informative book, which traces the burger's evolution from working man's snack during the Depression to symbol of American corporatism, is nothing less than a brief history of America in the 20th century."?The Economist

"Ozersky persuasively argues that the iconic American sandwich was born with the fast-food chain. . . . ````Universal and uniform, the hamburger simultaneously embodies the best and the worst of our culture, allowing it, in Ozersky's words, 'to enter a plane of discourse where sandwiches rarely appear.'"?Jonathon Keats, Forbes Magazine

"Lively, well-reported. . . . A tasty cultural history that appreciates the sizzle and symbolism of its subject."?Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today

"Short but comprehensive, heavy with interesting detail about the habits of American diners and restaurateurs."?Graeme Wood, The Atlantic Monthly

"Cultural historian Ozersky examines the hamburger?the bellwether, and later stalwart, of the fast-food establishment in America?as a cultural signpost for American cultural and social values. . . . Compelling reading, this clearly written book will attract a wide range of readers, from those with an academic interest in popular culture, U.S. history, sociology, or company histories to those generally interested in the American socio-cultural landscape and the origins of McDonald's."?Library Journal

"Hugely satisfying. . . . Both scholarly and witty."?Daniel Okrent, Fortune

"Ozersky tells a taut tale of the sandwich's Diaspora and hand-to-mouth existence. . . . Ozersky's unusual blend of passion and common sense sets his book apart from others of its kind. It's easy for aficionados to slide from thoroughness into obsession, leaving casual readers drowning in the immersion. But while Ozersky . . . never stops being entertaining, his book is far more than empty calories; it teaches a lot about culture along the way."?Ted Anthony, San Francisco Chronicle & Chicago Tribune

"In Ozersky's entertaining history of the shaped ground beef, you'll learn the humble beginnings of the hamburger to how it became the phenomenon it is today."?Metro New York

"Ozersky's little ode to joy on a bun is social history at its most flexible, rendered with an erudition and facility that will keep readers highly entertained, as well as informed. The author's credentials couldn't be more impeccable. . . . And once you've read this admittedly brief but resonant study of the patty that conquered America, you'll never be able to think about the hamburger in quite the same way again. . . . Ozersky's inquisitive mind and evocative prose will get the juices flowing and your mouth watering."?Robert Leiter, Jewish Exponent

"Ozersky . . . serves up a fast-paced and amusing account of how German 'hamburg steak' evolved into hamburgers for urban factory workers, became an irrepressible economic and cultural force, and played a role in the suburbanization of America."?Joshua Glenn, Boston Globe (Brainiac Summer Reading)

"Ozersky helps to put American history in the context of the hamburger's life story. Or is it the other way around? No matter, it's a fascinating look at one of our favorite things."?Gwyneth Doland, Fiery Foods & BBQ

"A short, utterly brilliant chronicle of this storied American morsel. . . . Ozersky himself brings the story on to the brothers McDonald, Ray Kroc, the hamburger wars, and down to today, briskly, astutely, and engagingly."?Katherine A. Powers, Boston Sunday Globe

"Colorful reading. . . . This is a country that needed something to unite it, and, however improbably, Ozersky convinces us that the hamburger has done just that. " ?Holly Brubach, New York Times Magazine


"The history of the sandwich from its humble origins to its current exalted state is what makes this book vastly entertaining."?Victorino Matus, The Weekly Standard


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