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Birdseye

Cover of Birdseye

Birdseye

The Adventures of a Curious Man
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Break out the TV dinners! From the author who gave us Cod, Salt, and other informative bestsellers, the first biography of Clarence Birdseye, the eccentric genius inventor whose fast-freezing process...More
Break out the TV dinners! From the author who gave us Cod, Salt, and other informative bestsellers, the first biography of Clarence Birdseye, the eccentric genius inventor whose fast-freezing process...More
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Description-
  • Break out the TV dinners! From the author who gave us Cod, Salt, and other informative bestsellers, the first biography of Clarence Birdseye, the eccentric genius inventor whose fast-freezing process revolutionized the food industry and American agriculture.

Excerpts-
  • From the book

    Chapter 1

    A Nineteenth-­Century Man

    Clarence Frank Birdseye II was born in Brooklyn on December 9, 1886. Both the year and the place are significant. In 1886, Brooklyn was a separate city from Manhattan and, in fact, was the third-­largest city in America and one of the fastest growing. Between 1880 and 1890 the population grew by more than a third to 806,343 people.

    One of the forces that made this dramatic growth possible in Brooklyn and neighboring Manhattan was refrigeration. Because of this new technology a large population could live in an area that produced no food but rather brought it in and stored it. Natural ice, collected in large blocks from the frozen lakes of New England and upstate New York, was stored in sawdust-­insulated icehouses built along the Hudson that shipped all year long. New York City used more than one million tons of natural ice every year for food and drink. While the pleasure of iced drinks in the summer had been a luxury of the wealthy ever since Roman times, in New York at the time of Birdseye's birth it had become commonplace. Almost half of all New Yorkers, Manhattanites and Brooklynites, kept food in their homes in iceboxes--­insulated boxes chilled by blocks of natural ice. A few even had artificially chilled refrigerators, dangerous, clumsy electric machines with unpredictable motors and leaking fluids.

    No place else in the world was using this much ice. Birdseye was born into a world of refrigeration and would find it lacking when he left the New York City area. It was one of those things that New Yorkers took for granted.

    People are mostly formed over their first dozen years; Birdseye, having been born in 1886, was a nineteenth-­century man, even though he lived most of his life in the twentieth century. This, of course, was not unusual. For the first half of the twentieth century, people shaped in the nineteenth century dominated most fields. John Kennedy, elected in 1960, was the first twentieth-­century U.S. president. Historians have often commented on how historical centuries do not fit neatly between year 1 and year 99, and quite a few have thought the historical nineteenth century to be an unusually long one, lingering well into the twentieth, whereas the twentieth century to some appears to have been a short one, transitioning even before the year 2000 into a new age that would be associated with the twenty-­first century.

    Clearly, Birdseye was shaped by the nineteenth century. Even as an inventor, he used nineteenth-­century industrial technology for nineteenth-­century goals, as opposed to someone like his fellow Gloucester inventor John Hays Hammond, who harnessed radio impulses into such devices as remote control and was very much a twentieth-­century inventor. Birdseye's inventions, from freezers to lightbulbs, were all mechanical and never electronic. Yet his impact on how people lived in the twentieth century was enormous.

    The nineteenth century, the time of the Industrial Revolution, was an age of inventions, and inventors were iconic heroes. Ten years before Birdseye's birth, Alexander Graham Bell had invented the telephone. The following year Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. The year after that, 1878, Sir Joseph Wilson Swan, a British inventor, patented the first incandescent lightbulb and lit his house with it. The year before Birdseye was born, a German engineer named Karl Benz patented the first automobile that was practical to use, a three-­wheeled vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine and fueled by periodically filling a tank with gasoline. The same year another German, Gottlieb Daimler, built the...

About the Author-
  • MARK KURLANSKY is the New York Times bestselling author of many books, including The Food of a Younger Land, Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, Salt: A World History, 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, and The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. He lives in New York City.

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Kurlansky's brief, vivid biography of the man who almost single-handedly started the frozen-food business depicts a life of constant inquiry, discovery, and adventure. Jon Van Ness's voice is somewhat scratchy but amiable, and his pacing is fundamentally good, though he makes frequent, awkward hesitations. In other ways, though, he doesn't match the book's level of professionalism. He incorrectly weights many phrases, changing their meaning, and incorrectly accents many words. His pronunciation is sloppy throughout. Van Ness gets in the way of this book rather than enhancing it. It deserves better. W.M. © AudioFile 2012, Portland, Maine
  • Abigail Meisel, New York Times Book Review "In the shadow of America's great inventors--Edison, Ford and Bell, to name a few--stands an unheralded giant: Clarence Birdseye, the father of the modern "fresh frozen" pea. Wander any supermarket and you'll find Birdseye's legacy.... [Kurlansky's] book is a delight--and a quiz bowl team's treasure-trove. Fabulous factoids abound."
  • Janet Maslin, New York Times "The first book-length biography of Clarence Birdseye.... [An] intriguing book that...coaxes readers to re-examine everyday miracles like frozen food, and to imagine where places with no indigenous produce would be without them."
  • NPR's The Salt "There's a particular pleasure in being reminded that the most ordinary things can still be full of magic. Frogs may turn into princes. Lumps of dirt can hide sparkling gems. And having just read Mark Kurlansky's new biography of Clarence Birdseye, I now see the humble fish fillet in a whole new light. For as Kurlansky tells it, when Clarence Birdseye figured out how to pack and freeze haddock...he essentially changed the way we produce, preserve and distribute food forever."
  • Andrew F. Smith, Newsday "Piecing together the first book-length biography of Birdseye was not easy. It's not just the episodic quality of Birdseye's life but the sparse and spotty nature of the surviving information about him. And there are many myths that surround his life, some perpetuated by the man himself.... [Yet] Kurlansky has pieced together a lively and readable biography about one of America's most unusual innovators."
  • Wendy Smith, Daily Beast "Best known for his deliciously knowledgeable food histories (Cod, Salt, The Big Oyster), Kurlansky['s]...wide-ranging curiosity matches his subject's, and his narrative of Birdseye's life displays great feeling for a fellow adventurer.... [R]eaders will emerge from this breezy book with a fondness for its engagingly eccentric protagonist--and a much better understanding of the intricate interconnection of traditional practices, technical breakthroughs, business deals, and social change that put those frozen peas in our refrigerators."
  • Publishers Weekly (starred) "Kurlansky brings Birdseye to life.... Covering the science behind Birdseye's... inventions along with intimate details of his family life, [he] skillfully weaves a fluid narrative of facts on products, packaging, and marketing into this rags-to-riches portrait of the man whose ingenuity brought revolutionary changes to 20th-century life."
  • Kirkus Reviews (starred) The author notes that Birdseye knew that curiosity is "one essential ingredient" in a fulfilling life; it is a quality that grateful readers also discover in each of Kurlansky's books."
  • Booklist "Kurlansky's narrative gifts shine through every chapter."
  • William Grimes, The New York Times "Part treatise, part miscellany, unfailingly entertaining."
  • The Wall Street Journal "Fascinating stuff . . . Kurlansky has a keen eye for odd facts and natural detail."
  • Michael Kazin, Chicago Tribune "Splendid . . . Evocative . . . No one before Kurlansky has managed to evoke so rich a set of experiences in so many different places--and to keep the story humming."
  • Walter Truett Anderson, San Francisco Chronicle "Highly readable . . . A rich perspective . . . Kurlansky is a writer of remarkable talents and interests."
  • Edward Rothstein, The New York Times Book Review "Kurlansky finds the world in a grain of salt . . . Fascination and surprise regularly erupt from the detail."
  • Merle Rubin, Lo "Kurlansky continues to prove himself remarkably adept at taking a most unlikely candidate and telling its tale with epic grandeur."
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    All copies of this title, including those transferred to portable devices and other media, must be deleted/destroyed at the end of the lending period.
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