Monday, April 22, 2013

Booknote: Coffee: A Dark History

Wild, Antony, Coffee: A Wild History. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005.

ISBN: 9780393060713

Genre: History
Subgenre: Microhistory

Coffee is one of my favorite topics. I enjoy the drink, and I like reading about the lore and history around it, so I thought this would be a good book on the topic. It was not to be. While the topic is interesting, Wild makes so many digressions away from the main topic of coffee that one is not sure exactly what the book is about. Is it about the slave trade? About the origins of coffee? About Napoleon? The origins of coffee was somewhat interesting as it dispelled some common myths such as the one about a goat herder discovering coffee when a bunch of his goats ate the bean and then acted "funny" from the caffeine. That probably did not happen, romantic as it is. However, the chapter on Napoleon's exile to St. Helena was mostly unncessary. Yes, Napoleon was a coffee drinker, and his housing on the island was terrible. So what? How exactly does all that minutiae advance the story? That is the problem with most of the book; the author gets bogged down in too many tangents to make for a coherent reading experience.

The book had potential if the author could make his mind up what story he wants to tell. That the prose is pretty dry does not help matters neither. Thus, I will continue to search for a good book on the history of coffee. This one is not it.

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