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Coffee: A Dark History

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  211 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
Reveals the shocking exploitation that has always lurked at the heart of the industry.

Also known as Black Gold: The Dark History of Coffee.
Hardcover, 323 pages
Published June 1st 2005 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 2004)
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Sep 06, 2014 rated it really liked it

For me, the best part was the beginning when Wild suggested that when the Bible talks about Adam and Eve eating something that made them more aware, able to open their eyes, making them think better and faster – it was referring to the coffee bean. I like this theory!

Then onwards to the history/science that concludes with the fact that coffee’s true beginnings are very, very murky with nothing concrete until the Sufi’s writings of the middle ages document them drinking this odd drink that meantt
Tyler True
Aug 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Coffee: A Dark History is a great feat of story-telling and of research. I will look for an opportunity to buy this book. Antony Wild thrillingly pursues the hard-to-isolate history of coffee rather than succumbing to “the number of myths that are ritually aired by the coffee trade to keep the curious at bay” (pg. 17).

Biology and chemistry, anthropology and linguistics, history and government, theology of all kinds and economics, painfully real or theoretical – these are but some of the fields t
It was not that thick but halfway through it, I had to put it aside. I would not say the narration was bad. It just had the tendency to wander off to other things, so you got not only about coffee and its rival tea but also Napoleon, Sufism, goat and apple berries, Starbucks, capitalism in America, Monsanto… And oh yes, don’t forget St Helena.

But I did not abandon the book altogether, thanks to the experience of reading Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain which was not
Geordan Williams
Jun 17, 2015 rated it liked it
Antony Wild writes like a journalist instead of a historian. Many of his arguments are half-baked; he'll make claims with little follow up or some bare bones causation. For instance, the suggestion that certain Central American countries have less violence today because they killed fewer indigenes during the colonial period. He also makes arguments that sound like something from a college cafeteria. He'll reference different events as if you should know what they are and how exactly they support ...more
Mar 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was quite a fascinating book. The author has a very quirky sense of humor and a good writing style that I enjoyed. I had to read a number of passages aloud to friends and family as I went through. The author does need to calm down a bit though, as the first few chapters feel like he has imbibed a bit too much of this beverage and he is on a caffeinated romp zipping through this subject and that subject back and forth seemingly at random, sometimes even within the same paragraph.

I definitely
Jan 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, food
I've been thinking about reading a book about coffee when I saw Coffee: A Dark History at our local library, so I took a chance.

A Dark History sets out to explore the origin of the coffee plant, how and who started drinking coffee and it's spread through out the world to became one of the most important commodity. In addition, the author shows the devastating effect the coffee crop (and policies around coffee) has had on countries and people (African slave trade - North South issues) that provi
Just A. Bean
Dec 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
It's certainly informative! On any number of topics, one of which was coffee, but many of which felt as though they were whatever pet subject that caught the author's attention that chapter, most of which were at least tangentially related to coffee, sure, and about several of which I was left wondering.

Peculiar sidetracks about the Freemasons aside, this was one of the better written (the author has some wonderfully funny turns of phrase) and better researched coffee books I've read. It might b
Jun 15, 2015 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this, most memorable part was when the author makes a case for the coffee bean as an evolutionary catalyst, sort of how Terrence McKenna made the argument that the ancestors of Homo Erectus benefited psychologically and socially from ingesting psychedelic mushrooms, except its caffeine and not Psilocybin that initiates the great leap. It is an intriguing hypothesis backed up by the fact that fossils of some of mankind's oldest ancestors have been found in the same Ethiopian highlands w ...more
Mar 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
One's natural concerns are raised when the author starts the book by asking you not to question his facts and sources too much. For a history book that's a bit odd. The conclusions suffer from a lack of fact. In one occasion a point is made about dates where the author got Jim Morrison 's age at death completely wrong so I had to take this book as a work of fantasy. It also spends a lot of time discussing the history of St Helena which is what in fact I would guess the book started life as until ...more
Leo Africanus
Seemingly written in a frenetic caffeine-fuelled state, the book contains far too many rambling tangents and a sprinkling of horrendous factual errors (especially when explaining Islamic terminology e.g. confusing the sunnah with the Quran).

However the first couple of chapters demand attention as they chart the Chinese inspired path of coffee under Arab and then Ottoman auspices to the gates of Vienna only for secular Turkey to dismiss its 400 year coffee drinking history in favour of tea.

Mar 20, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed many parts of this book and appreciated the content. Advertised by the author as a "dark" history, it seemed lacking in cutting edge journalistic research. The early and late chapters dealing with the coffee crisis of recent decades and the globalization of consumption were more compelling than the slow slog through coffee's oceanic trade history, recounted without a great deal of narrative purpose. I would recommend a different historical overview to friends but would suggest some of ...more
Kris McCracken
Sep 16, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
A popular history of coffee. It has its moments of appeal, but a little to ideologically driven for mine. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting (nor in the mood) for a post-colonial, neo-Marxist tirade, particularly one that picks and chooses its areas to expose quite so randomly. The lack of a narrative thread (let alone citations or list of resources) also made it a bit of a struggle to get through. Not recommended.
Dec 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book confirms my view that Starbucks is evil and reinforces my decision not to patronize them. Wild does an excellent job of pointing out the economic webs around coffee, and how, as usual, it is the poor farmers who suffer the most from price fluctuations, weather issues, and World Bank policies. It is worth the read, although if you are already tending toward depressed, it won't cheer you up at all.
Sep 02, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A 3.5 star book. There's a lot of interesting information here about coffee and the coffee trade.
The author does run off on mainly unrelated tangents occasionally and some of the history of the Coffee Traders, with all the names and dates and ship names, is quite dry and detailed but, on the whole, this is an interesting look at coffee history from ancient times to the present, including Fair Trade coffees.

Aug 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
308 pages

Oh coffee, how I enjoy drinking you! Very interesting to know where you come from. I learnt a lot about the cultivation of coffee and the history it installed. What an eye opening account of coffees' history. Along with the trading and economics and science and cultures that co-inside with its' history, I learned about the civilizations that were a part of it. Coffe was very important in world trade for over 500 years and still is today.
Jamie Burgess
Jan 21, 2015 rated it liked it
This one was a little slow to get through. I'm much more interested in the social history of food and the culture surrounding than the historical background or economic view, which was presented by this book. But it did give me some of the information that I wanted to know about the history of coffee.
Feb 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Great history and better writing. Looks at coffee history with a special emphasis on justice. Author is unapologetic about taking significant detours to dwell on subjects he is especially fascinated by, including Napoleon, the isle of St. Helena, and Rimbaud. I enjoyed it a lot. There is unmistakable axe-grinding here, but, if you know how to read history, that shouldn't be a problem.
Mar 04, 2013 rated it did not like it
Excerpt from my review at my blog, The Itinerant Librarian:

"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."

Visit my blog to read the rest. Link:
Dec 26, 2007 rated it liked it
Does what it says it does. But in the midst of the coffee discussion, Wild goes off on long tangents about St. Helena and a variety of other topics. He looks longingly back at the 19th century world (an English one) and disparages global (American) capitalism. Of course, there is quite a lot to disparage...
Jan 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
Such a disappointment. The writing style meandered all over the place and the connection to coffee in some of the narrative was weak. I think there were stabs at humor or wit, but I can't be sure. Between those three issues, I found it very hard to focus and ended up skimming for the second half.
Juan Cano
Oct 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Quite possibly the best book i have read so far about the history of Coffee. A great mix of historical overview and contemporary analysi; very well researched and foremost, thought provoking. highly recommended.
Oct 29, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: history buffs
This book is misleading- title seems interesting but is really quite a bore! I only finished it because it was the only English language book available in Zambia where I suffered the misfortune of running out of books.
Jun 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
#46 - a microhistory

My rating is actually a 2.5, but I rounded down because I took some issue with some of the author's theories that were clearly a stretch. I found this book both fascinating and boring at various times, but the overall history of coffee certainly is an interesting one.
May Khaw
Nov 02, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Mostly skimmed it. Not as interesting as I expected.
Gerard Walsh
Mar 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting political, economic and social history of coffee and a good introduction to the varieties and preparations of the drink.
Taro Yamashita
Sep 12, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
Not as engaging as I thought it would be. As I got busy, it was easy to set this aside and stop thinking about it... which I did, and then had to return it to the library, unfinished.
Dec 07, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great history, interesting social commentary, but let down by amateur hour regarding the health effects of caffeine and/or coffee.
Apr 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A tour de force.
Paris Pierce
May 20, 2015 rated it did not like it
Avoid. A rambling collection of facts with few even related to coffee. It could have been done better by a trained monkey.
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