Oceans of Grain; How American Wheat Remade the World by Scott Reynolds Nelson Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge…

Oceans of Grain; How American Wheat Remade the World by Scott Reynolds Nelson. Basic Books, 2022. 356 pages; $32.00 (hardcover); reading level: adult.

This is more a textbook than an informational read for a lay audience and requires those willing to soldier through it to bring a lot of knowledge to the table: a background in economics, finance, and Russian/U.S./European history (from 10,000 b.c. to 1924 a.d.) for starters. Nelson plucks a thread common to all of these disciplines and eras—pathways along which grain has been traded through the millennia—and makes the case that the age-old challenge of moving grain from fields to the mouths of citizens and soldiers is the driving force behind a host of historical events including the beginning of the concept known as “empire”, the siege of Constantinople, the rise of Russia under Catherine the Great, World War War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the end of slavery (in the U.S.) and serfdom (in Europe). Nelson’s lofty assessment of his audience’s prior knowledge more often than not left this particular reader struggling to hang on to the narrative thread. Mountains of supportive facts and frequent digressions pulled in all directions. Still, Nelson’s impressive command of the material, his outrageous thesis (intriguing if not convincing), and the tiny gems of information scattered along the way made the frequent slogs through (to me) incomprehensible territory almost worthwhile.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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