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The Invention of the Restaurant

The Invention of the Restaurant

Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture, With a New Preface

Rebecca L. Spang

ISBN 9780674241770

Publication date: 01/14/2020

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Winner of the Louis Gottschalk Prize
Winner of the Thomas J. Wilson Memorial Prize

“Witty and full of fascinating details.”
Los Angeles Times

Why are there restaurants? Why would anybody consider eating alongside perfect strangers in a loud and crowded room to be an enjoyable pastime? To find the answer, Rebecca Spang takes us back to France in the eighteenth century, when a restaurant was not a place to eat but a quasi-medicinal bouillon not unlike the bone broths of today.

This is a book about the French revolution in taste—about how Parisians invented the modern culture of food, changing the social life of the world in the process. We see how over the course of the Revolution, restaurants that had begun as purveyors of health food became symbols of aristocratic greed. In the early nineteenth century, the new genre of gastronomic literature worked within the strictures of the Napoleonic state to transform restaurants yet again, this time conferring star status upon oysters and champagne.

“An ambitious, thought-changing book…Rich in weird data, unsung heroes, and bizarre true stories.”
—Adam Gopnik, New Yorker

“[A] pleasingly spiced history of the restaurant.”
New York Times

“A lively, engrossing, authoritative account of how the restaurant as we know it developed…Spang is…as generous in her helpings of historical detail as any glutton could wish.”
The Times


  • Spang has written an ambitious, thought-changing book. Until now, most restaurant history was pop history, filled with canned ‘Eureka!’ moments and arch legend-making… Spang’s book is an example of the new ‘niche’ history, and, like the best of such books, it is rich in weird data, unsung heroes, and bizarre true stories about the making of familiar things.

    —Adam Gopnik, New Yorker


  • Rebecca L. Spang is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies at Indiana University. She is the author of Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution (Harvard).

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press
  • Foreword by Adam Gopnik

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