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24 September 2018


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High Society Dinners

by Yuri Lotman (Prospect Books, $43)

There are many ways to resurrect the past, to understand how people lived. One way is through memoirs and biographies. Another, is through photography or paintings. Yet another would be to look at what people ate, and how. We are, after all, what we eat. And how.

Taking this approach, re-nowned Russian cultural historian Yuri Lotman analyzed the menu book of a prominent St. Petersburg family from 1857 and 1858, interspersing his fascinating, if often tangential, commentary with other historical artifacts, from foreign and domestic newspaper reports to letters and contemporaneous tidbits about life in the Romanov court.

As a result, the book is a vivid demonstration of how food and the meals they comprise can inform the wider cultural context of events. And it offers a rich insight into the social history – culinary and otherwise – of the nineteenth century Russian gentry and the world they inhabited.


— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: May/June 2015