Synopses & Reviews
In the first portrait of James Beard in twenty-five years, John Birdsall accomplishes what no prior telling of Beard's life and work has done: He looks beyond the public image of the "Dean of American Cookery" to give voice to the gourmet's complex, queer life and, in the process, illuminates the history of American food in the twentieth century.
Informed by previously overlooked correspondence, years of archival research, and a close reading of everything Beard wrote, this majestic biography traces the emergence of personality in American food while reckoning with Beard's own need for love and connection, arguing that Beard turned an unapologetic pursuit of pleasure into a new model for food authors and experts. At a time when Julia Child, Richard Olney, and French food reigned supreme, The Man Who Ate Too Much demonstrates how Beard's triumphs and failures, his self-exile and physical insecurities, revolutionized American cuisine.
Born in Portland, Oregon, in 1903, Beard spent summers on the Oregon coast with an unconventional mother, forging the taste memories that came to define his later career. A trauma in his college years propelled him to New York City, where he became, in the 1940s, host of one of the first television cooking shows. His flouting of the rules of publishing led him to craft some of the most expressive cookbooks of the twentieth century, with recipes that live on.
As Beard's fame grew, Birdsall powerfully demonstrates how he escaped loneliness and banishment by traveling abroad to places where people ate for pleasure, not utility, and found acceptance at home by crafting an American ethos of food likewise built on passion and delight.
In stirring, novelistic detail, The Man Who Ate Too Much brings to life a towering figure, a man who still represents the best in eating and yet has never been fully understood — until now. This is biography of the highest order, a book about the rise of America's food written by the celebrated writer at the forefront of a more-inclusive food culture.
“The author of the groundbreaking article, "America, Your Food Is So Gay," turns a sharp but sympathetic eye on the carefully closeted food writer who celebrated the glories of homegrown ingredients and down-home cooking decades before they were fashionable…A thoughtful appreciation of a central figure in the story of American food culture.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Birdsall’s narrative offers a tangy portrait of the backstabbing world of post-WWII food writing along with vivid, novelistic evocations of Beard’s flavor experiencesThe result is a rich, entertaining account of an essential tastemaker.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“It is fitting that John Birdsall should give this impossibly rich tribute to the gay father of modern American food culture, revealing that it’s not the food but the ingredients within that make the cook a legend. Savoir faire, shade, dish, yearning, hunger, and creative fire made the great James Beard and this joy of a biography possible…Foundational. Important. Indispensable and delectable queer food history at its finest.” Michael W. Twitty, James Beard Award–winning author of The Cooking Gene
“John Birdsall – a gastronomic expert in his own right, having twice won a James Beard Award – gives foodies a fresh, intimate look at Beard. He writes with candor, wit, and vibrancy, as if Beard himself is speaking through Birdsall’s pen, retelling his colorful life and inviting us into his world...a raw, revealing look...The Man Who Ate Too Much is meticulously researched.” Becky Libourel Diamond, BookPage
"A remarkable book about a legend who was held back by the boundaries of the past, but was profoundly ahead of his time in so many other ways." David Lebovitz, author of My Paris Kitchen and Drinking French
"[A] delectable morsel." Juliana Rose Pignataro
"Birdsall's sentences have rhythm, too, and compress time and place so that a meal becomes a history... like the greediest of diners, I want more." Ligaya Mishan
About the Author
John Birdsall is a two-time James Beard Award-winning author, a former food critic, and longtime restaurant cook. He is the coauthor of a cookbook, Hawker Fare, with James Syhabout. He lives in Tucson.
Keith Mosman on PowellsBooks.Blog
When offered the chance to write a post highlighting some LGBTQ+ titles, I knew I wanted to show how broadly our stories are disbursed throughout the bookstore, often in categories you might not expect. Because, to borrow a title from Leighton Brown’s and Matthew Riemer’s beautiful history of queer liberation: We Are Everywhere