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Cover image for Birdseye : the adventures of a curious man
Birdseye : the adventures of a curious man

1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, ©2012.
Physical Description:
xvii, 251 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 22 cm
Prologue: a curious ending -- A nineteenth-century man -- Bugs begins -- Bob goes West -- Ticks -- Frozen -- Freezing -- The idea -- The deal -- The magic -- The inventor -- Beyond the sunset and the baths.
From the author who gave us "Cod," "Salt," and other informative bestsellers, the first biography of Clarence Birdseye, the eccentric genius inventor whose fast-freezing process revolutionized the food industry and American agriculture.
Geographic Term:


Call Number
921 BIRDSEYE 2012
921 Birdseye, Clarence 2012
92 Birdseye, Clarence 2012

On Order



Break out the TV dinners! From the author who gave us Cod , Salt , and other informative bestsellers, the first biography of Clarence Birdseye, the eccentric genius inventor whose fast-freezing process revolutionized the food industry and American agriculture.

Author Notes

Mark Kurlansky is the author of The Basque History of the World, the New York Times bestseller Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World (among the New York Public Library's Best Books of the Year in 1998), as well as A Chosen Few: The Resurrection of European Jewry; A Continent of Islands: Searching for the Caribbean Destiny, and several acclaimed works of short fiction and journalism about the Caribbean. He spent seven years as the Caribbean correspondent for the Chicago Tribune.

He lives in New York City.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Although frozen foods made Birds Eye a household name, few were familiar with Clarence Birdseye (1886-1956), developer of the fast-freezing process that became a multibillion-dollar international industry. In the first biography of the eccentric Brooklyn-born inventor, award-winning food author Kurlansky (Cod) brings Birdseye to life as he outlines the twists and turns of his unusual career. In a 1945 interview Birdseye stated that G.A. Henty's 1891 novel Redskin and Cowboy "first influenced him to live the outdoor life." Yearning for adventure, he dropped out of Amherst College in 1908 and worked in the southwest as a U.S. Biological Survey naturalist, collected ticks in Montana to research Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and became interested in food preservation in the frozen wilderness of Labrador. Experiments with freezing led to his 1927 patent, which "truly began the frozen food industry," yet he had to deal with the same problems Adam Trask faced in John Steinbeck's East of Eden-distrust, since "frozen vegetables were an unheard-of idea," and "no trucks or train cars for frozen food," Birdseye became a millionaire when Post bought his company for $23.5 million. Covering the science behind Birdseye's other inventions along with intimate details of his family life, Kurlansky skillfully weaves a fluid narrative of facts on products, packaging, and marketing into this rags-to-riches portrait of the man whose ingenuity brought revolutionary changes to 20th-century life. Agent, Charlotte Sheedy. (June 8) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

Yes, the frozen-food guy really was named Clarence Birdseye (18861956), and the story of his adventures is another satisfying dish from the remarkable menu of the author of Cod (1997), Salt (2002) and other treats. Kurlansky (The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris, 2010, etc.) places Birdseye in the same category as Thomas Edison: amateurs who got curious about a problem, played around with it (sometimes for years) and eventually figured it out. Birdseye had many more interests than frozen foods, writes the author; he invented, among other things, a kind of light bulb and even a whaling harpoon. He also grew up in a world that seemed to have limitless resources--no worries about plundering the planet. He killed creatures with abandon for decades, many of which he enjoyed eating, including field mice, chipmunks and porcupine. His curiosity also made him fearless. He conducted field research on Rocky Mountain spotted fever (collecting thousands of ticks), and he lived in the frigid Labrador region of Canada (and took his equally fearless wife and their infant). It was in the North that he began to wonder why foods frozen there--naturally--tasted so much better than the frozen foods back home. He discovered, of course, that it was quick-freezing at very cold temperatures that did the trick. He eventually invented the process that produced vast amounts of good frozen food, but then had to wait for the supporting infrastructure (transportation, storage, etc.). Kurlansky tells the exciting tale of Birdseye's adventures, failures and successes (he became a multi-millionaire) and his family, and he also offers engaging snippets about Velveeta, dehydration and Grape-Nuts. The author notes that Birdseye knew that curiosity is "one essential ingredient" in a fulfilling life; it is a quality that grateful readers also discover in each of Kurlansky's books.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Anyone who's wandered supermarket aisles recognizes the Birds Eye logo in frozen foods. But not everyone knows that the trademark originated from Clarence Birdseye, who developed a novel method for fast-freezing food that overcame earlier drawbacks of inferior taste and texture. An inveterate tinkerer, explorer, and inventor, Birdseye made a mark as a field specimen collector in the fight against Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Moving to Labrador before the start of WWI to establish a fox farm, he recognized that the deep, arctic cold kept fish tasting fresh even after thawing. He decided to replicate this discovery on an industrial level and relocated with his family to Gloucester, Massachusetts. But perfecting freezing techniques was less daunting a problem than convincing consumers of frozen food's succulence. Birdseye also had to develop shipping methods and convince railroads to upgrade their rolling stock to accommodate the icy goods. Kurlansky's narrative gifts shine through every chapter.--Knoblauch, Mark Copyright 2010 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

IN the shadow of America's great inventors - Edison, Ford and Bell, to name a few - stands an unheralded giant: Clarence Birdseye, the father of the modern "fresh frozen" pea. Wander any supermarket and you'll find Birdseye's legacy, neatly wrapped packages containing every imaginable type of fast-frozen fruit, vegetable and meat, their natural colors, textures and flavors miraculously preserved by Birdseye's pioneering method. Commonplace now, fast-frozen food, first marketed in 1930 under the label Bird's Eye Frosted Foods, was initially hailed as a marvel of science. For the first time, June sweet peas and summer blueberries could be savored, in close-to-fresh form, in the dead of winter. By the mid-1940s, Americans were eating over 800 million pounds of fast-frozen food a year. In his new biography, "Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man," Mark Kurlansky spins a good yarn about an innovator he calls "a foodie in reverse," a man who "loved food, loved to cook, . . . ate wild local food and artisanally made products, . . . but who dreamed of making food industrial." (Kurlansky touched on his story in three previous books: "Cod," "Salt" and" "The Last Fish Tale," a history of Gloucester, Mass., America's oldest commercial fishing port.) Birdseye was born in what is now Locavore Central - Brooklyn - in 1886. As Kurlansky writes, it was an "age of inventions": Eastman patented roll film, Waterman created the capillary-feeding fountain pen, Daimler introduced the gas-powered motorcycle. Birdseye was a curious boy in both senses of the word. He loved exploring nature and roamed the woods near his family's Long Island country house for hours, shooting small game and then stuffing it. He opened his first business, the American School of Taxidermy, at age 11. All his life he was an enthusiastic naturalist, but one who regarded nature as a boundless forprofit venture. He came of age just as Theodore Roosevelt, America's cowboy-scholarnaturalist, was ascending in politics. Like Roosevelt, Birdseye fell sway to the romanticism of the American West and as a young man lit out for Arizona, New Mexico and Montana. He embraced physical challenges, surviving in Labrador for months at a stretch, enduring the isolation of arctic winters and keeping company with rugged adventurers. It was during a stay in this far northern region that Birdseye made his first observations about freezing and crystallization, and found, to his surprise, that the frozen food in Labrador was "not unpleasant," Kurlansky writes. In addition to science, commerce plays an important role in Birdseye's story. In 1929, the Postum Cereal Company - a marketing powerhouse that had already acquired Jell-O and Maxwell House - bought out Birdseye, and his relevant patents, in a deal financed in part by Goldman Sachs. After acquiring Birdseye's frozen food venture, Postum changed its name to General Foods. The deal left Birdseye a millionaire on the eve of the Great Depression. A scientist and businessman, he could claim more than 200 patents by the time he died, in 1956, for ideas including a modernized whaling harpoon, a better light bulb and a new process for making paper from the pulp of sugar cane stalks. Kurlansky's book is slow going at times. He gets bogged down in detail about Birdseye's early food experiments and his painstaking efforts to find exactly the right type of salt, and temperature for achieving optimal fast-freezing. But over all the book is a delight - and a quiz bowl team's treasure-trove. Fabulous factoids abound: the inventor Jesse Reno "created a sensation in Birdseye's native Brooklyn when he showcased the escalator for two weeks as a ride at the Coney Island amusement park." "Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man" can be downed in a sitting or two, an ideal entertainment for a summer afternoon in a hammock - best savored with a bowl of fresh blueberries at hand. Clarence Birdseye was a 'foodie in reverse,' a locavore who dreamed of making food industrial. Abigail Meisel has written for The New York Times, The New York Observer and The Daily News.

Library Journal Review

There was far more to American inventor Clarence Birdseye (1886-1956) than met the eye; he was slight and cheerful but restlessly curious. He was drawn into a life of travel to remote parts of the continent in search of adventure and new experiences. He invented tools and processes, notably that which enabled quick freezing of foodstuffs and revolutionized culinary habits. Birdseye launched not just the frozen--vegetable company that bears his now-famous name but an entire industry. Kurlansky, whose past works include the popular histories Salt and Cod, paints a complete picture of Birdseye's unusual career and accomplishments; however, this is not a gripping portrait of an individual. The lack of connection between the readers and the subject (rather than just his inventions) makes this one of Kurlansky's less-successful outings. VERDICT This is not one of Kurlansky's strongest books, but author and subject name recognition should generate interest.-Peter Hepburn, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago Lib. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.