In a rich and engaging book that illuminates the lives and attitudes of peasants in preindustrial Europe, Piero Camporesi makes the unexpected and fascinating claim that these people lived in a state of almost permanent hallucination, drugged by their very hunger or by bread adulterated with hallucinogenic herbs. The use of opiate products, administered even to infants and children, was widespread and was linked to a popular mythology in which herbalists and exorcists were important cultural figures. Through a careful reconstruction of the everyday lives of peasants, beggars, and the poor, Camporesi presents a vivid and disconcerting image of early modern Europe as a vast laboratory of dreams.
"Camporesi is as much a poet as a historian. . . . His appeal is to the senses as well as to the mind. . . . Fascinating in its details and compelling in its overall message."—Vivian Nutton, Times Literary Supplement
"It is not often that an academic monograph in history is also a book to fascinate the discriminating general reader. Bread of Dreams is just that."—Kenneth McNaught, Toronto Star
"Not religion but bread was the opiate of the poor, Mr. Camporesi argues. . . . Food has always been a social and mythological construct that conditions what we vainly imagine to be matters of personal taste. Our hunger for such works should tell us that food is not only good but essential to think and to read as if our lives depended on it, which they do."—Betty Fussell, New York Times Book Review