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The True History of Chocolate

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  602 ratings  ·  59 reviews
Cultivated by slaves, consumed by the elite, paid out as a tribute to conquerors, this tale of one of the world's favourite foods draws upon botany, archaeology, socio-economics and culinary history to provide a complete history of chocolate, beginning 3000 years ago in the jungles of Mexico. The book also includes quotations and old recipes.
Paperback, 280 pages
Published October 1st 2000 by Thames & Hudson (first published 1996)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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This book was chalk full of facts and information, but Coe's writing style left something to be desired. It was too academic; often lacking clarity and coherence. In his introduction Coe indicates that he wrote this book based on the research and notes of his late wife, Sophia, who passed away unexpectedly from cancer. Thus, he's writing this book as a sort of tribute to his wife. I think that's sweet (no pun intended).

The first two chapters about chocolate in the Mayan and Aztec culture were wo
A very well written and researched exploration of the history of chocolate focusing on its early roots in Mesoamerica and its takeover of Europe. Unfortunately, as the authors point out, many of the original documents, recipes, and information about chocolate from Nahuatl, Maya, Aztec, etc users was destroyed or lost so much of the information is only available second hand from people who didn't speak the language, didn't care to learn about the culture, or were missionaries or apologists for co ...more
As with the only other Coe book I've read so far, I give this book 5 stars for the information, 3 stars for the writing (hence, 4 star average).

Learning about chocolate is the next best thing to actually eating chocolate, and this book certainly gives the reader many tasty tidbits on which to nibble. Starting with a basic description of the trees themselves (how and where they grow, the different types) and what happens to the beans to get a usable product (fermentation, roasting, etc.), the nar
Oh, divine chocolate! They grind thee kneeling, beat thee with hands praying, and drink thee with eyes to heaven. -Marco Antonio Orellana

This sometimes fun history of chocolate begins with the Maya, who drank chocolate warm and spiced, and ends in the ironic tale of Maya Gold, Green & Black's chocolate bar found in stores today with the cacao from Mayan farmers. The first few chapters are slow going. But this modern world history teacher couldn't put the book down once the manner which choco
Laura Crockett
This is not only a history of chocolate, but a slice of history of the area from which it originated (Mesoamerica) the Aztecs and then the history of how chocolate came to Europe, North America and so forth. There are recipes for hot chocolate from the 18th century included. I have tried a couple. Let me tell you! This is not your powdered chocolate mix that you buy in the supermarket or at Trader Joe's. Those powders are milk/sugar based. And I will not go back to drinking a cup of that stuff b ...more
Kim C
May 21, 2008 Kim C rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: chocoholics, history buffs
This book is a monster (transcribing it into braille was, anyhow). The Coes did a great job at harvesting all existing knowledge about chocolate (ancient past, recent past, and present) into one volume. I believe this is a vast reliable resource on the subject if you are looking for this kind of thing. As this book was assigned for me to transcribe, it wasn't anywhere near my first pick of books, but I must say I enjoyed the read! I learned a lot of semi-useless information albeit interesting. I ...more
Kevin Kasowski
I was taught history in the most boring fashion possible as if all people ever did was fight wars and build and lose empires. So I love reading these kinds of histories that actually give you a sense of what life was really like for the people themselves at various ages.

I give this 3 stars for content but 2 for writing. It is an interesting story but it is written by two anthropologists and isn't as accessible as others I've read in this genre. Lots of "we shall return to this subject later" and
If you like cultural anthropology and you like chocolate, then you will like this book.

It reads like a thesis on chocolate, but this is not a bad thing. In fact, it makes it all the more valid and interesting. Included are several pages of references so you, too, can continue your knowledge of this wonderful plant product.

I would say this book is more geared for those scientifically inclined, but the history of chocolate's spread throughout the world is still a good read for anyone.
Denise Louise
It's a pity this book had such a stilted and old-fashioned style, because it could have been a very good book otherwise. Probably two thirds of the book is detailed, scholarly history of chocolate in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and its slow introduction into Europe after discovery (that is, conquest) of the New World. The story of development of chocolate from drink to food was not nearly so richly explained, and the end of the book feels quite rushed. Unfortunately, the book's tone in straight fr ...more
Before I read this book I didn't know much about the origin of one of my most favorite treats: chocolate.

The authors spend a very large portion of the book talking about chocolate's very early history in Central America. Contrary to popular belief, the Aztecs didn't invent chocolate, although the drank lots of it. Earlier civilizations, like the Mayans and Olmecs can be credited with the invention of chocolate, although not in a form we would probably recognize today. All the early Central Ameri
Some of the Maya and Aztec info is in her earlier book on Mesoamerican cuisine, but there is enough extra material that I didn't feel like I was just rereading something previously published. The first third of the book focuses on the history of chocolate in America, up to the Conquest. Then the focus shifts to Europe and how chocolate was introduced there. Finally, the last chapter focuses on modern chocolate manufacture as well as the recent rise in gourmet chocolate. The Coes include a quick ...more
Karen Bales
In the forward to this book. the author lets us know that he wrote this book at the request of his wife who tragically became ill with cancer and died after having done extensive research for it.
It explains to us the new world origins of chocolate and how the Maya and Aztecs enjoyed it(always in drink form and never with sugar). We learn how the Spaniards brought it to Europe and how it traveled from there. We are also told how chocolate use fit into the medical and religious theories of the d
Kevin Sedota
An excellent read that covers "the bean" from it's original use by mesoamericans to today's high end and fair trade producers. This book gives a fascinating look at how cocoa has been used and viewed through out history. Originally viewed as a delicacy for the affluent, them viewed as a medical tool and finally as an everyman's treat. I would have liked a little more on the business of chocolate and the science of how a lowly not particularly good tasting bean (we all tried tasting that baking c ...more
A thoroughly intriguing and accurate portrayal of chocolate's usage throughout the ages, from ancient Mayan cities to the courts of Europe and beyond. I liked the inclusion of old recipes but was always much more fascinated by the beliefs surrounding chocolate, which ranged from hysterical blame for it being responsible for disease or babies being born black (hint: someone must have used this as an excuse at some point when the father was not exactly Caucasian) to it being a cure all for disease ...more
From memory because I read this book a decade ago: it was delicious :-)
Excellent! This book will form the basis for my lecture on chocolate for my consumerism class. Easy read. Love Coe!
A great history of my favorite food -- chocolate. I love it that so much of the history centers in the part of the world in which I am currently living. I have great interests in foods that are found throughout the world but expressed in different ways: chocolate, coffee, tea, wine, rice, etc. Learning their histories is a way of learning about cultures and values throughout the world. This book was well written and included a bit of the authors personalities which is always a welcome element in ...more
The good news: I learned all kinds of things about the early history of Central and South America that I did not know.

Also, I spent an awful lot of time craving hot chocolate. But with the new found my knowledge that my familiar hot chocolate is far too sweet and milky to resemble anything like the original chocolate beverage.

The bad news? The writing style is often more than a bit dry. Riveting reading it is not.
Although chocolate and its history is a very interesting subject, the writing was on the academic side--not as gripping or as entertaining as Mark Kurlansky's writing. To be fair, the project was completed by the author's husband after she died which may explain this tone. Found the details on the Jesuit involvement of particular interest. Have to admit, I am an even more dedicated chocolate fanatic after reading this!
Oct 18, 2007 Katherine rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: foodies.
While unfortunately riddled with far too many typos and exclamations points than I find acceptable in a history book, I no less am really enjoying learning about one of my favorite foods from this book.

I bought it in Guatemala at a chocolate museum on a whim and was glad I did, if nothing else than for the fun recipes it includes that I can't wait to try! Now if only I can locate some ambergris...
An excellent and very readable look at the early history of chocolate consumption with attention paid to the evolution of words associated with the famous drink and a host of other details.

The Coes clearly focus on their own field of interest (the Maya, as both were anthropologists). I was disappointed by the thinness of the later chapters, those dealing with chocolate after it went global.
This is a thorough story of what cacao and chocolate are. I liked the part where it explains how it is grown and why it is so expensive. Then came the historic details, and it got a little heavier for me, but I liked it in general. I think this is an excellent source of information about a plant that we all take for granted, but can disappear or become prohibitively expensive so easily...
Melissa Luna
Jan 08, 2008 Melissa Luna rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: chocolate-lovers, foodies
I had to return this book to the library before I could finish the last chapter but I am sure it only continued to get more interesting. I love chocolate. I love eating it, making it, shopping for it, studying it, waxing philosophical about it... basically, there is nothing I don't love about it. This book can be a bit dry at times, but it lives up to its name and is a wealth of information.
Donna Davis
This is an extremely detailed history of chocolate, most of which is centered on the liquid version. That said, it can be pretty dry with all the historical facts, and the modern section about how chocolate changed from liquid to solid is BARELY covered. The book is kind of a disappointment in that regard. Lots of old recipes for liquid chocolate, if you're into that sort of thing.
The late Sophie Coe does not read as smoothly as Michael Coe, her sentences seem so awkward at times. Nevertheless, this is an excellent overview for the general public, you will definitely learn something about chocolate. The anecdotes and stories she has collected to humanize the whole history are fabulous.
People who are in to the rash of cultural histories of specific substances will probably like this book. A play on "A True History of the Conquest of New Spain," I wouldn't say it's breezy writing but the pace moves and I learned a lot about the diffusion of chocolate to Europe.
Jun 02, 2015 Anie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: foodies
A book on the history of chocolate - what's not to love? It's not always the most gripping of books, but the Mesoamerican history of chocolate is definitely pretty interesting. Coe's a good writer, and really, it hits the chocolate craving from a whole new angle.
Aug 14, 2007 Leslie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Chocoholics
Shelves: history
If you love chocolate as much as I do, you must read this book. I liked learning that somehow the Jesuits helped bring chocolate to Europe, those rascals. This book takes you through several centuries of the history of chocolate. Fascinating. Yummy.
A very impressive collection of chocolate knowledge, but not always the best organized. Many sections mention something briefly, followed by "but more of that in a later section".
Overall very informative though.
Very thorough history! As a chocoholic, I enjoyed the emphasis on detail, but the writing style was a bit too textbook-ish. Descriptions of the earliest culinary uses of chocolate were quite interesting.
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