By Stewart Lee Allen
I really liked this book, but it is important to know what to expect. You will not find a history of coffee in the usual scholarly style.In fact, it is as much of a travelogue as it is a book on the history of coffee. The author follows the trail of coffee as it spread throughout the world. It tells the story in a lighthearted, trivia kind of way, but that does not diminish the value of the information, which is accurate. Rather, it is decidedly and intentionally non-scholarly and avoids any attempt at serious verbosity. The journey is fun to follow - probably more so as an armchair traveler than it would be in real life. I thought it was funny, well written and a good, easy yet informative read, although at times his conjectures and postulations are a bit over the top, to put it mildly. The proverbial kernel of truth may be present, but is buried under a layer of exxageration that naturally arise when one deliberately puts on extremely blinkered glasses in order to examine a certain issue from a specific point of view. In the end the story fizzles out a bit as the search for coffee tales turns into a somewhat frenzied hunt for a caffeine kick - not quite the same thing. But still, it does illustrate well how a simple herbal concoction of a rural backwater (could be anywhere) slowly, over time evolves into something much more potent and potentially lethal, as preparations become more refined and the search for ever stronger kicks is taken up by laboratory scientists who seek to isolate the 'active ingredient' of a plant. This story has been repeated with different 'herbs-turned-drugs' so many times throughout history - one could say it is the history of pharmacy. And so, this book tells us as much about the human mind, set in pursuit of that ever more powerful punch, as it does about the actual plant and its round-about journey to conquer the world. Despite the lightheartedness of this book, it does raise a lot of questions and is excellent food for thought.
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