Corn and Capitalism

How a Botanical Bastard Grew to Global Dominance

By Arturo Warman

Translated by Nancy L. Westrate

288 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5437-2
    Published: March 2003
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6325-1
    Published: December 2003
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7140-4
    Published: December 2003

Latin America in Translation

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Awards & distinctions

A 2003 Book of the Year, The Economist

Exploring the history and importance of corn worldwide, Arturo Warman traces its development from a New World food of poor and despised peoples into a commodity that plays a major role in the modern global economy.

The book, first published in Mexico in 1988, combines approaches from anthropology, social history, and political economy to tell the story of corn, a "botanical bastard" of unclear origins that cannot reseed itself and is instead dependent on agriculture for propagation. Beginning in the Americas, Warman depicts corn as colonizer. Disparaged by the conquistadors, this Native American staple was embraced by the destitute of the Old World. In time, corn spread across the globe as a prodigious food source for both humans and livestock. Warman also reveals corn's role in nourishing the African slave trade.

Through the history of one plant with enormous economic importance, Warman investigates large-scale social and economic processes, looking at the role of foodstuffs in the competition between nations and the perpetuation of inequalities between rich and poor states in the world market. Praising corn's almost unlimited potential for future use as an intensified source of starch, sugar, and alcohol, Warman also comments on some of the problems he foresees for large-scale, technology-dependent monocrop agriculture.

About the Author

The late Arturo Warman was an anthropologist and the former minister of agrarian reform in Mexico.
For more information about Arturo Warman, visit the Author Page.


"Fascinating and ambitious. . . explores corn at the places where several disciplines coincide."--Journal of the History of Biology

"Indispensable."--Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto and The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

"An illuminating history of the past 500 years viewed through the evolution and migration of corn."--Foreign Affairs

"Arturo Warman's study of maize elegantly documents how a domesticated New World plant could deeply affect Old World farming and eating habits and the lives and pleasures of countless human beings. The genius of Native American farmers made the whole world their beneficiaries."--Sidney W. Mintz, author of Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom and Sweetness and Power

"Warman writes as an anthropologist, long concerned with the realities of maize horticulture and rural life in Mexico, but he also employs his close examination of the origins and history of corn to trace out the ramifying effects of its diffusion and spread upon the societies of the world, both New and Old. . . . In the course of this examination Warman does something rare, difficult, and marvelous."--Eric R. Wolf, author of Europe and the People Without History