Book review: Menus That Made History by Vincent Franklin and Alex Johnson


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is certainly one of the most intriguing books I’ve read in a while (and I’ve read some very strange ones); it takes a special kind of genius to think that such a subject as menus could make the basis for a book.

In some cases the menus Vincent Franklin and Alex Johnson present us with are not really menus in the printed sense at all. Some are gleaned from archaeological evidence, manuscripts, books and other records which give clues or half answers. Others though, are bone fide actual menus and the authors provide us with pictures of these which are themselves, absorbingly interesting.

What you do get consistently are fascinating insights into historical periods of time and of great characters throughout 2000 years of history. The authors’ claim that you can tell a lot about people from what they choose to put in their stomachs and how they choose to do it certainly holds water.

My only criticisms would simply be the layout. The authors chose to group the selections into themes, though often these seem a little arbitrary, rather than by chronological order. Considering that this is, at the end of the day, a history book, I feel this was a wrong move. It certainly makes it unusable as a reference guide to use with my students to liven up a Friday afternoon history lesson. Instead, it is consigned to the coffee table or toilet-reading shelf. An amusement, and nothing more. At the very least, should there be another edition, the authors should consider a second contents list giving the entries their proper historical placing.

Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. His third book is ‘Try not to Laugh’ and is a guide to memorising, revising and passing exams for students.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media. The novel,’The Pukur’, was published by Histria Books in 2022.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.

Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways and Lancashire Life magazine. Currently reviews for Northern Arts Review. His reviews have been read more than 5.5 million times.


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