Mullane Literary Associates

Oceans of Grain by Scott Reynolds Nelson

Oceans of GrainScott Reynolds Nelson

“American cotton changed the world in the first half of the nineteenth century, American wheat in its second. Nelson’s globe-spanning exploration of the powers of a humble grain to topple empires, enable industrialization, build cities, and redirect trade flows is the kind of commodity history one wishes for: attentive to politics, connected as well as comparative in perspective, and with a knack for telling details. After reading this fast-paced book, the wars, revolutions, and empires of the nineteenth century will never seem the same.”

Sven Beckert, author of Empire of Cotton

“Nelson reveals the deep international career of wheat as a maker and breaker of empires…a book of astounding reach and depth, wholly original, gripping to read, and destined to become an instant classic. Rice and maize should be so lucky.”

James C. Scott, author of Against the Grain

“Oceans of Grain makes a strong case that the wheat trade’s contribution to history has not been given its due….Extraordinary detail and entertainingly wild digressions run through a narrative that has room for, to take a random sample, Roman milestones, Prussian logistics, one of Britain’s greatest financial scandals, quite a bit of Marxism, the spread of white bread and Isaac Newton’s (possible) prediction that the world would end in 1866....Grain too played a role in the chaos that finally overwhelmed the Russian empire in 1917, and in the contest for the domains that ensued. That no small part of that revolved around Ukraine's rich wheat lands is not, this week, a reassuring thought….Original and intriguing.

Wall Street Journal

An incredibly timely history… Nelson makes a persuasive case that grain production, storage, transport and trade was the defining factor in the rise and fall of civilisations from Rome to Byzantium to the Ottoman Empire and Imperial Russia….It's hard to imagine a book more relevant for our moment.

Financial Times

An unexpected tale of what caused some empires to crumble while others survived and thrived….Oceans of Grain’s reinterpretation of a humble commodity’s history makes a case that wheat has had as much of an impact on our country and our planet as cotton—and that the fight for the power of grain is far from over.

Civil Eats

Scott Reynolds Nelson’s signature mastery of scale is on full display in Oceans of Grain….This remarkable book rearranges what you think you know about the United States and the world.”

Stephanie McCurry, Columbia University

The best work of history I have read in a very long time. It takes readers from the granaries and ancient trade pathways of Europe to the US Civil War and the overthrow of slavery, the founding of empires, the slaughterhouses of the First World War and the Russian Revolution, and, finally, to our contemporary, interconnected, and profoundly unequal world.”

Andi Zimmerman, George Washington University

An eye opening feat of historical reconsideration.

Smoke Signals

About the Author

Scott Reynolds Nelson is a Guggenheim fellow and the author of, among other works, Nation of Deadbeats, Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend, which received the Merle Curti Social History Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Award for Nonfiction, and the National Award for Arts Writing, as well as the related multi-prize winning book for young adults, Ain’t Nothin’ But a Man (coauthored with Marc Aronson). He is the UGA Athletics Association professor of the humanities at the University of Georgia in Athens.

» See also

A Nation of Deadbeats