Dan Koeppel Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Dan Koeppel

Dan Koeppel

An interview with Dan Koeppel

Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, talks about all things bananas, including Banana Republics, the fruit's role in the Garden of Eden, the source of slipping on banana peel gags, and its current status as an endangered species.

What initially got you interested in writing about the Banana?

I read a small article in a science journal about an incurable disease that - even though the general public hadn’t heard of it - had the potential to destroy the world’s banana crop. I ended up with a magazine assignment, and wrote a story on the disease. I love bananas, and I couldn’t believe that they could disappear.


Is it true that the bananas we eat now are not the same as the bananas from fifty years ago?

That’s right. The banana our grandparents ate was a different - and most people say better tasting - breed called the Gros Michel. But that banana was wiped out by a variant of the blight, called Panama Disease, that now threatens our version of the fruit, called the Cavendish.


Is it really possible that the banana could one day be extinct?

The Cavendish banana was adopted because it was immune to Panama Disease. But bananas are generally very weak, because, like human identical twins, each one is an exact genetic duplicate of the other. What makes one banana sick makes all bananas sick. So if something really virulent comes along, it can be a huge problem.


What are Banana Republics?

Through the 1950s, the big American banana companies - including the ones known today as Chiquita and Dole - were so hungry for land to grow their fruit that they asserted dictatorial, and often brutally repressive, power over the Latin American nations where their plantations were located. Often this would be behind-the-scenes, through puppet governments. Nations controlled by the big fruit growers became known as "Banana Republics."


What is Panama Disease and can it be stopped?

Panama Disease is a fungus, specifically of the Fusarium variety (three are lots of types of fusarium fungus - your garden tomatoes can catch them. The fungi don’t travel between species, so you can’t be infected by a banana, or anything else.) The version of Panama Disease that is now threatening our bananas appeared first in Southeast Asia, attacking newly planted Cavendish farms, and spreading from there. Right now, there is no cure.


What are some examples of how has the banana industry affected history politically?

In 1929, at the behest of the banana companies, an estimated 1,000 striking banana workers and their families were massacred by Colombian troops. The political instability that followed still plagues the South American nation today, and is partly responsible for the rampant terrorism and drug-related crime that makes Colombia such a dangerous place. Similar interventions, with similar - though less dramatic - consequences, occurred in Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and other countries in Central and South America between 1900 and the 1970s.


What is some of the folklore or mythology surrounding the banana?

The banana is a plant that has been revered for over 5,000 years. There’s a lot of evidence that the original Hebrew versions of the bible considered the fruit to be the one that tempted Adam and Eve in Eden. In Africa, where millions of people, even today, rely on the fruit as their main source of nutrition, bananas are said to be a gift from a god called Kintu; each banana breed eaten in Africa has a different significance, ranging from increasing fertility to celebrating weddings to secretly tempting a wayward spouse to return home. In Hindu mythology, the banana is known as the "fruit of the wise man." Buddha himself is said to have meditated under a banana tree.


How did slipping on banana peels become such a universal cultural joke?

Everybody thinks this is just a slapstick gag, but in fact, after the fruit became popular in the U.S. (around 1890), there was so much banana litter that walking on city streets became a real hazard. Ordinances against throwing away banana peels were enacted, and sanitation departments - some of them the first ever for their municipalities - were organized around solving the problem.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Books by this Author

Books by Dan Koeppel at BookBrowse
Banana jacket
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Dan Koeppel but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • Nicholas A. Basbanes

    Nicholas A. Basbanes

    Nicholas A. Basbanes is an award-winning investigative journalist and was literary editor of the Worcester Sunday Telegram. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Banana

    Try:
    On Paper
    by Nicholas A. Basbanes

  • Barbara Freese

    Barbara Freese

    Barbara Freese is an Assistant Attorney General of Minnesota. She is known for her debut Coal: A Human History.

    Freese not only helped enforce her state's environmental laws but also became fascinated by the very substance ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Banana

    Try:
    Coal
    by Barbara Freese

We recommend 9 similar authors

View all 9 Readalikes

Non-members can see 2 results. Become a member
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: All That She Carried
    All That She Carried
    by Tiya Miles
    For Rose of Charleston, South Carolina, it was an ordinary day until it wasn't. When it turned out ...
  • Book Jacket
    Migrations
    by Charlotte McConaghy
    Migrations, Australian author Charlotte McConaghy's literary fiction debut, earned a notably high ...
  • Book Jacket: The Forest of Vanishing Stars
    The Forest of Vanishing Stars
    by Kristin Harmel
    Kristin Harmel's historical novel The Forest of Vanishing Stars was very well-received by our First ...
  • Book Jacket: African Europeans
    African Europeans
    by Olivette Otele
    The nexus of Africans and Europeans is not a recent historical development. Rather, the peoples of ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
All the Little Hopes
by Leah Weiss
A Southern story of friendship forged by books and bees, in the murky shadows of World War II.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Sunset Route
    by Carrot Quinn

    A beautiful memoir about forgiveness, self-discovery, and the redemptive power of nature.

Win This Book!
Win The Debt Trap

The Debt Trap
by Josh Mitchell

"A meticulous, eye-opening history of the US student debt crisis."
—Publishers Weekly

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A T I A Teapot

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.