Food has played a starring role in the lives of so many famous or infamous people. Diplomatic agreements have been negotiated over elaborate feasts, novels have been fueled by strong coffee, and marriages have ended over a meal gone bad.

In What the Great Ate, brothers Matthew and Mark Jacob have cooked up a bountiful sampling of the peculiar culinary likes, dislikes, habits, and attitudes of famous — and often notorious — figures throughout history.

In this photo from the 1920s, First Lady Grace Coolidge samples a cookie that was made by a Girl Scout troop in New York State.  President Calvin Coolidge made derisive comments about his wife's kitchen skills.

Rube Waddell was one of baseball's outstanding pitchers during the early 1900s.  But he had a habit that greatly aggravated his catcher and roommate — eating animal crackers in bed.  The team's owner got Waddell to sign a contract in which the pitcher agreed to cease this annoying habit.

Buy the Book!


  • "... a smorgasbord of amusing tidbits on the favorite foods of prominent artists, scientists, sports stars and, yes, politicos."
  • The Washington Post
  • "... many fascinating facts" CBS News' Health Blog
  • An "amusing grab-bag of food-related anecdotes"
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • "... an impressive catalogue of food-related tales about the world's most famous people." New York Daily News
  • "Brims with fun-filled anecdotes ..." Andrew W. Smith, Oxford Encyclopedia of Food & Drink
  • "This is a fascinating read." Jeff Houck, The Tampa Tribune

  • "... a good helping of the book's pleasure comes from the cognitive dissonance of the 'great' eating, well, the small. Does it trivialize the president to learn that Ronald Reagan was a lover of jelly beans?" The New Yorker
  • "... one of the most enjoyable, enlightening, informative and, frankly, simply fun books." Rick Kogan, Chicago's WGN radio
  • One of "17 Food-Themed Books You'll Want to Eat Up"
  • More magazine
  • The Jacob brothers "must've mucked through skyscraper-size piles of research materials to put together this book."  Philadelphia City Paper
  • Named one of 13 "Books on Foodies' Beach Blankets" for the summer. 
  • Publishers Weekly
  • "This is one book I had a hard time putting down."
  • Food editor, Winston-Salem (NC) Journal
  • "... it was with gusto that I devoured [this] book ..."
  • The Montreal Gazette
  • The book is "one that I'm certain you will enjoy sharing with your friends and family."  Around the Horn, a baseball blog
  • "It's a book to nibble on, not consume all at once, but will provide plenty of curiosities with which you can fascinate friends."
  • Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union
  • "There are enough interesting stories in here to spark many good dinner party conversations."
  • The Calgary Herald
  • "This book has a massive collection of amusing food trivia ..."
  • ifood, a web portal
  • "... on our list of must reads"
  • "Let's Just Talk," WQRT radio in Cincinnati
  • "... a book that's full of fun food facts, trivia and other tidbits ..."
  • The Post-Bulletin (Rochester, MN)
  • "This looks like an interesting book."
  • A "delicious book"
  • Francophilia Gazette
Enter a State of Foodphoria
Foodphoria is the Weblog written by co-author Matthew Jacob. Foodphoria offers Matthew's irreverent, no-nonsense commentary on eating, drinking and dining. Click here to visit the blog.
10 Things You Might Not Know...
... about beer, France and lots of other things. Click here to read samples of the Chicago Tribune's "10 Things You Might Not Know ..." series, which is written by co-author Mark Jacob.

Pasta Violence

On Friday, la Repubblica — one of Italy's largest newspapers — published this article citing stories from the book. Interestingly, the article did not include any of the book's stories about former Italian premier Benito Mussolini.

Before he rose to power, Mussolini and his political allies frequently settled their disputes with adversaries by dueling with swords, even though this was illegal. Not wanting to alarm his wife’s mother, who then lived with his family, Mussolini would use code language to inform his wife that he would be dueling later that day. "Today we're making spaghetti," he would tell her.


Act I, Scene II, Snack III

What snack would playwright Neil Simon sometimes enjoy as a reward for finishing a difficult scene? And what breakfast cereal earned the affections of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein?  The answers to both questions can be found in this recent article by The Daily Beast, which interviewed co-author Mark Jacob.


An Executive Order

Former Texas Governor Allan Shivers had this recipe for chili:

Put a pot of chili on the stove to simmer.

Let it simmer. Meanwhile, broil a good steak.

Eat the steak. Let the chili simmer. Ignore it.


"Suffering for Want of Peanut Butter"

On this day in 1964, novelist and short-story writer Flannery O’Connor died.  In a 1954 letter to friends who were living in Italy, O’Connor declared herself “distressed” to learn that the cake she had shipped to them more than one month earlier had not arrived.

“Doubtless some official along the way ate it,” O’Connor wrote.  “I was going to ask you how you fared for peanut butter and, if you needed it, was going to send you some, but I won’t if things don’t get there any better than that.  I hate to think of your suffering for want of peanut butter though and I doubt if they have advanced to the state of culture where they have it over there.”

As for the cake?  If it ever arrives, she added, “it should be good and stale.”


A Favorite of the Pope

Pope Martin IV had such a ravenous appetite for a certain kind of seafood that it was blamed for his death in 1285. In this post on his Et Religio blog, Alfredo Garcia cites the papal story from our book.