Coffee is an indispensable part of daily life for billions of people around the world—one of the most valuable commodities in the history of global capitalism, the leading source of the world's most popular drug, and perhaps the most widespread word on the planet. Augustine Sedgewick's Coffeeland tells the hidden and surprising story of how this came to be, tracing coffee's five-hundred-year transformation into an everyday necessity.
The intricate synergies of coffee and capitalism form the subtext of the historian Augustine Sedgewick’s thoroughly engrossing first book ...'What does it mean to be connected to faraway people and places through everyday things?' Sedgewick asks in his early pages. Coffeeland offers a fascinating meditation on that question, by rendering once-obscure lines of connection starkly visible ... Though his analysis of coffee’s political economy does owe a debt to Marx, his literary gifts and prodigious research make for a deeply satisfying reading experience studded with narrative surprise. Sedgewick has a knack for the sparkling digression and arresting jump cut, hopping back and forth between El Salvador and the wider world, where coffee was being consumed in ever-increasing quantities. He is especially good on the marketing of coffee to Americans ... He shows how coffee has long been promoted in America less as a tasty beverage or pleasurable experience than as a means to an end: 'a form of instant energy—a work drug.'
... a wide-ranging chronicle of the role of coffee in American culture and commerce and, above all, in the fascinating history of El Salvador, a small country along Central America’s Pacific Coast that is rich in coffee beans but not in traditions of political stability or broad-based property rights ... Mr. Sedgewick sets so many themes and story lines in motion that his narrative might have easily become overwhelming were it not for his deft handling of them. There is no mistaking where he stands, but one needn’t subscribe to all his righteous judgments to value the rich tapestry he has woven.
Extremely wide-ranging and well researched, Sedgewick’s story reaches out into American political history, not to mention the history of American breakfast ... The originality and ambition of Sedgewick’s work is that he insistently sees the dynamic between producer and consumer—Central American peasant and North American proletarian—not merely as one of exploited and exploiter but as a manufactured co-dependence between two groups both exploited by capitalism. 'Cravings' are not natural appetites but carefully created cultural diktats ... To be sure, Sedgewick recognizes that the actual history of caffeine and capitalist efficiency is more complicated than one might expect ... At the same time, Sedgewick perhaps ascribes undue propagandistic power to the public-relations exercises of coffee producers. Like many radical historians, Sedgewick has a passionate feeling for detail, but lacks a sense of irony ... Sedgewick’s approach can seem dutifully leftist, but the evidence suggests that socialist models of production have hardly humanized the demands of agricultural labor ... Sedgewick, in a tradition of protest literature rooted more in William Blake than in Marx, sees mankind chained to a treadmill of obedience leading only to oblivion.