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Friday, July 27, 2012

Book Review: Crunch! A History of the Great American Potato Chip

I see in my latest blog poll that potato chips easily won over popcorn, tortilla chips and everything else as readers' salty snack of choice. It doesn't surprise me. I love chips, and Americans in general have loved chips since they were invented over a century and a half ago.
Since I also I like history, I recently picked up a copy of Crunch! A History of the Great American Potato Chip, by Dick Burhans, a biologist by education, and a self-described avian ecologist, graphic artist, and part-time musician.

Burhans grew up in eastern Ohio, which has long been a center of the potato chip industry, so "chippers" from there get a fair amount of attention in the book. But he also covers manufacturers from Pennsylvania (still the heart of the industry) to the South, Midwest, and other regions.
The approach is generally narrative and chronological, from the legendary birth of the potato chip in Saratoga in the mid-19th century, through the sweeping changes brought about by the advent of mass production and interstate transportation, the late-20th century rise to dominance of Frito-Lay, and the recent resurgence of small-scale chippers employing traditional methods. Along the way, Burhans gives the reader a solid overview of both the technical side of making chips and the behind-the-scenes marketing battles - supermarket shelf space is a biggie - that few of us are aware of as we reach for that bag of chips at the grocery store.
Coming in at just over 200 pages, and written in a straightforward, approachable style, Crunch! is a quick, fun read, providing a wide-ranging overview of the potato chip industry from the 1850s to today. If you've ever wondered how the modern potato chip got to be the way it is - from the frying to the packaging to its placement on a store shelf - you'll enjoy this book.

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