The potato, as Rebecca Earle, the author of “Feeding the People,” this detailed, scholarly survey, puts it, is “a fantastically successful global food stuff.” It was all but unknown before the 16th century outside its native Andean region, where it had been appreciated for some 10,000 years. Healthful, tasty and economical, it has been tied to government food policies in Europe, the United States and elsewhere, notably for nourishing workers. Issues of class, colonialism, commercial agriculture, peasant farming and government regulation versus freedom of choice are clearly (and densely) laid out and documented. A handful of recipes includes one from The New York Times in 1943 for a layered, jellied meat and potato loaf.

“Feeding the People: The Politics of the Potato” (Cambridge University Press, $24.95).

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