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Art of Rice, The

by: Roy W. Hamilton

Seattle WA: Univeristy of Washington Press 2004, $60.00, Hardbound
ISBN: 0-930741-98-6

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Summer Volume: 2005 Issue: 12(2) page(s): 17

This unbelievably ambitious book tells tales of rice, some of which are not found elsewhere. Here, they are included in thirty-five essays by twenty-seven authors from ten different countries. This book is huge and complex, the primary author on the staff of the UCLA Fowler Museum in Los Angeles, California. He and colleagues have managed a massive undertaking encompassing all of Asia. The book looks at the notion of rice as food, family, and phenomenal history. Not only does it include things you will not find elsewhere, it includes aspects about this basic grain you might not have even thought of.

Hamilton, the lead author, is no stranger to writing books about Asia or specific places in Asia. He has done so before and since as the curator of the Asian and Pacific collections at the Fowler. This long-held position has given him access to pictures, four hundred fifty in color and almost sixty others in black and white, and to people and Pacific Rim research less known that less knowledgeable people might not have had access to.

Grants and good folk, both in the plural, helped conceive, carry out, and complete this massive tome, which has one specific essay by Francesca Bray about China. However, every article is important to read and rejoice about. China is mentioned in ever so many of them, and thanks to a phenomenal thirty-six column cross-referenced index and a twenty-one column list of references cited, there is no trouble finding Chinese rice information among the many essays and the many books and articles cited. All will add to your 'I want to read these' list. In this one volume, China is mentioned in scattered locations, so one really should read every page.

What mentions does China and its rice culture get? Too many to mention them all, but they do include Chinese artifacts, chopsticks, Chinese agricultural centralization, early Han settlers, the Grand Canal, rice and other food offerings, cooking rice, granaries, the Rice Goddess, liquor distillation, milling, all types of rituals, rice landscapes, and many more.

Because the book is heavy with pages, places, and people, we began just by looking at its pictures. That took a few hours as they are many and magnificent, most in color, and an education in and of themselves. So do get your education just by looking and learning from them; we certainly did.

As is my want, I then went to the index and checked out things Chinese. After finding and reading all of them, I knew this was a great reference volume for China scholars. Next, I read chapter twenty-nine about China called: Images of Rice in Imperial Chinese Culture. Then I reread it two times more. As Asian food history is so intertwined, I am presently enjoying every minute of all the other pages. How can one not read about rice festivals throughout Asia and so much more? I know of no other book that recognizes so much about one single food. Marla C. Berns, Director, writes the Foreword and how right she is when she says "Eating rice will never be the same" and that nowhere else will one learn the "essential roles and the importance of rice to Asian peoples worldwide."

This book deserves platter and place on the shelves of all serious scholars, and also on the dishes of those less serious but hungering for fine factual fare tasting the grain eaten by more people worldwide than any other. Would that I had known earlier and flown west to see the companion exhibition at the Fowler Museum; bet it was a beauty, too.

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