This Shit is Bananas!

When it comes to non-fiction, I like to chase down entertainment based on interesting topics that don't get enough attention. Spelling bees. The family politics of sushi restaurants. Bananas certainly fit this pattern, what with them being the most delicious fruit on Earth and everything. So Rich Cohen's recent book, entitled The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King immediately caught my attention.

I was hoping it would chart the rise of the banana's popularity in America. Or that it would enhance my knowledge of the fruit companies that had a stranglehold on Central American economies and politics for so many years. Or that I would learn about a towering historical figure I was previously unacquainted with. Unfortunately, when this book attempts to do any of those things, it doesn't do them particularly well.

I think it's a matter of attempting to tell too many stories, and the resulting short shrift each of them gets. If Cohen wanted to explore the history of Sam Zemurray, he should have focused on that. Instead, we spin off into tangents about Lee Christmas, the trials and travails of various Central American political figures, and the business backgrounds of fruit company presidents, and not enough time is spent with any of them to glean any real depth. By the end of this book, I hadn't learned anything about Zemurray that couldn't be summed up in a desultory Wikipedia page.

Part of the reason bananas are so valued is that the perfect amount of content is stored in a perfect package. If only Rich Cohen had learned a lesson from his titular fruit. It's not a hopeless book, but it's certainly nothing I could ever recommend.

The Fish That Ate the Whale: C


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