Ten Tomatoes that Changed the World

A History


By William Alexander

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$23.99 CAD


New York Times bestselling author William Alexander provides “an entertaining, broad-ranging history of the tomato” (Mark Pendergrast) in this fascinating and erudite microhistory.

The tomato gets no respect. Never has. Lost in the dustbin of history for centuries, accused of being vile and poisonous, subjected to being picked hard-green and gassed, even used as a projectile, the poor tomato has become the avatar for our disaffection with industrial foods — while becoming the most popular vegetable in America (and, in fact, the world). Each summer, tomato festivals crop up across the country; the Heinz ketchup bottle, instantly recognizable, has earned a spot in the Smithsonian; and now the tomato is redefining the very nature of farming, moving from fields into climate-controlled mega-greenhouses the size of New England villages.

Supported by meticulous research and told in a lively, accessible voice, Ten Tomatoes That Changed the World seamlessly weaves travel, history, humor, and a little adventure (and misadventure) to follow the tomato’s trail through history. A fascinating story complete with heroes, con artists, conquistadors, and—no surprise—the Mafia, this book is a mouth-watering, informative, and entertaining guide to the food that has captured our hearts for generations.

  • "This spirit of curiosity proves an asset to Ten Tomatoes That Changed the World—the writer’s reactions and discoveries often seem to be simultaneous with those of the reader. Mr. Alexander holds forth with the goofy charm of a high-school math teacher—just swap out the trapezoid jokes for tomato puns—keeping his lessons droll, not dull ... I don’t know if even the most delicious summer tomato can explain our place on the planet. But knowing more about its improbable history makes every bite that much sweeter."

    The Wall Street Journal
  • "William Alexander takes readers on a world tour through history, from the tomato's regional origins in Mexico to its ubiquitousness in the present day. Along the way, his play sense of humor makes his book endlessly surprising."

    Bookpage, starred review
  • “Culinary history buffs will revel in the myriad anecdotes Alexander unearths here.”

  • "[A]n engaging look at the humble fruit. . . Eccentric, informative, and thoroughly enjoyable."

    Kirkus Reviews
  • "[O]ne of the most delightful history books of the season. . . By the time you finish his book, you’ll marvel at how much [Alexander] managed to squeeze into 300 pages."

    Air Mail
  • “From the man who grew us The $64 Tomato, William Alexander is back in the garden…as well as in pizzerias in Naples (Italy), a ketchup factory, the local Pizza Hut, large-scale tomatoes farms in Naples (Florida), and the farmers markets where heirloom tomatoes are having their day in the sun, again. Ten Tomatoes That Changed the World is a fascinating and funny tell-all tale of how ten tomatoes are shaping our lives in unusual, unexpected, and (in some cases) very delicious directions.”

    David Lebovitz, author of Drinking French and My Paris Kitchen
  • “William Alexander has written an entertaining, broad-ranging history of the tomato, in a conversational, humorous style that uses tomatoes to explore history -- from the Aztecs to Italian cuisine and pizza -- along with the introduction of fascinating characters, issues such as climate change and hydroponics, heirloom mania, and the search for flavor in a world of GMOs and factory farming.”

    Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds and For God, Country and Coca-Cola
  • “William Alexander is a delightful guide on this whirlwind tour of the tomato's influence on global cuisine and culture. His trademark blend of history, botany, memoir and travelogue make Ten Tomatoes That Changed the World a captivating--and appetizing--read for gardeners and cooks alike.”

    Amy Stewart, New York Times bestselling author of The Drunken Botanist
  • "A thrilling history ... Alexander’s narrative delivers a story that’s as informative as it is funny and filled with awe ... Food lovers will savor every bit."

    Publishers Weekly
  • "Written in a lighthearted style, this engaging book includes historical photos and illustrations, and is packed with fascinating factoids. This is the type of book where readers will find themselves spouting historical tidbits to everyone in their orbit ... A fun book that both instructs and entertains on every page."

    Library Journal
  • "[T]his witty firsthand narrative transcends its topic, niche, and season while tackling that nagging question we all want answered: Why do winter tomatoes taste so awful?"

    AudioFile Magazine
  • “[E]ngaging and immersive.”  

    Edible Inland Northwest

    “Highly readable… Mr. Alexander presents himself as an apprentice, but the reader quickly discovers he is also a master teacher."

    Wall Street Journal on Flirting with French
  • "Alexander's breathless, witty memoir is a joy to read. It's equal parts fact and fun.” 

    Boston Globe on 52 Loaves
  • “[Alexander’s] bright writing highlights a pleasing variety of comical misadventures... Entertaining and educative."

    Kirkus Reviews on 52 Loaves
  • "Serious, irreverent, funny and informative at the same time."

    Jacques Pépin on 52 Loaves
  • “Engaging, well-paced and informative."

    New York Times on The $64 Tomato
  • “[A] disarmingly witty take on horticulture…consistently funny."

    Washington Post on The $64 Tomato
  • “Alexander's slightly poisoned paradise manages to impart an existential lesson on the interconnectedness of nature and the fine line between nurturing and killing.” 

    Publishers Weekly on The $64 Tomato

On Sale
Jun 6, 2023
Page Count
320 pages

Photo of William Alexander

William Alexander

About the Author

William Alexander, the author of two critically acclaimed books, lives in New York’s Hudson Valley. By day the IT director at a research institute, he made his professional writing debut at the age of fifty-three with a national bestseller about gardening, The $64 Tomato. His second book, 52 Loaves, chronicled his quest to bake the perfect loaf of bread, a journey that took him to such far-flung places as a communal oven in Morocco and an abbey in France, as well as into his own backyard to grow, thresh, and winnow wheat. The Boston Globe called Alexander “wildly entertaining,” the New York Times raved that “his timing and his delivery are flawless,” and the Minneapolis Star Tribune observed that “the world would be a less interesting place without the William Alexanders who walk among us.” A 2006 Quill Book Awards finalist, Alexander won a Bert Greene Award from the IACP for his article on bread, published in Saveur magazine. A passion bordering on obsession unifies all his writing. He has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and at the National Book Festival in Washington DC and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times op-ed pages, where he has opined on such issues as the Christmas tree threatening to ignite his living room and the difficulties of being organic. Now, in Flirting with French, he turns his considerable writing talents to his perhaps less considerable skills: becoming fluent in the beautiful but maddeningly illogical French language.

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