Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World

Rate this book
Listening time = 2h 2m

Pollan takes us on a journey through the history of the drug, which was first discovered in a small part of East Africa and within a century became an addiction affecting most of the human species. Caffeine, it turns out, has changed the course of human history - won and lost wars, changed politics, dominated economies. What's more, the author shows that the Industrial Revolution would have been impossible without it. The science of how the drug has evolved to addict us is no less fascinating.

2 pages, Audible Audio

First published January 30, 2020

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Michael Pollan

73 books13.2k followers
Michael Pollan is an American author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is also the director of the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism.

Excerpted from Wikipedia.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
3,225 (19%)
4 stars
6,902 (41%)
3 stars
5,390 (32%)
2 stars
905 (5%)
1 star
203 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,747 reviews
Profile Image for Regina.
1,136 reviews3,331 followers
February 11, 2022
Not as stimulating as I thought it would be. 🤷‍♀️
Profile Image for Aerin.
149 reviews541 followers
March 12, 2020

This was a brief, interesting overview of the science and history of caffeine and all of the wonderful and terrible things it does to the human brain. I could have done without Pollan's long personal story about what it was like to stop drinking coffee for a few months and then start up again because yes, I too have detoxed from caffeine from time to time, and I too am aware it makes you sleepy and headachey and hate everything. HARD-HITTING JOURNALISM!

Still, I am indebted to this book for making me aware of just how much caffeine is in black tea (about half the amount in an equivalent serving of coffee). Which doesn't sound like much, but I am pretty sensitive to caffeine and I'd recently switched from my low-dose diet soda habit to drinking about 5 cups of tea daily, and then wondering why I was having racing heartbeat, massive anxiety, insomnia, etc. So thanks book! I wasn't dying, just overcaffeinated.

Further remarks:

I noticed recently that my count of books read this year went down by one and so spent a bunch of time trying to determine why - apparently Goodreads had entirely removed this book from their database because some folks in their infinite wisdom decreed that works published in audio format only are NOT A BOOK and therefore don't belong on this site.

I'm not here to argue the semantics of what is and isn't a book - people can have differing opinions on that. But it's DEEPLY annoying to have to spend a bunch of time wondering if I'm crazy, if I miscounted my books, etc., when people just randomly issue these proclamations.

Don't make me hate you again, Goodreads.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.5k followers
April 19, 2022
My third exclusive (ooh!) (and short--a couple hours) Audible book, by Michael Pollan, who also reads it aloud, where he makes a brief case for how caffeine shaped our modern world. Most humans--including children--are addicted to caffeine, through coffee, tea, soda, and more recently, through hyper-caffeinated “energy” drinks. And we have in recent decades seen studies that seem to support the contention that a certain amount of caffeine is good for you (though I always think the billion-dollar coffee/tea/soda industry may be invested in these studies, as the alcohol industry is in all these pro-booze "studies.").

The pretty heavily-caffeine-addicted Pollan did his own self study on a medical researcher’s advice: Go through withdrawal and stay off caffeine for a while and see what that does to your body, and then, if you like, start ingesting the drug again. But none of what he discovers would be surprising to any of us.

The first half of the essay establishes that caffeine in recent centuries has fueled the world's "progress," including the Industrial Revolution. He makes a case for it being aligned with rationality and productivity. He describes coffee as he would a lover, and claims he could not have accomplished so much as a writer without it. He says we individually and socially are more “productive” when we are caffeinated.

But in the second half of the book Pollan relies on his reading of Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams to (lightly) question the assumed virtues of productivity, rationality and capitalism itself. He establishes that, while he will go back to his lover/addiction, he acknowledges that sleep loss in part fueled by caffeine has shortened some people’s lives and promoted heart problems, high blood pressure and several other diseases.

And what about, I'll add, the argument for slow growth, slow eating, the “end of progress,” and quiet contemplation? Is more always better than less? Look at the destruction of the planet. Is it not the result of "progress"? Are is there a downside to your productivity and professional accomplishments?

How many of us during the pandemic (and regarding the related issues of climate change, war, refugees, you name it), have become more anxious, depressed and seen the rise of violence in our homes and communities? Can we blame caffeinated drinks for the state of the world? Well, maybe think of it like this: Might meditation and long walks in the woods and eight hours sleep be better for your health than two more shots of espresso?

Here’s one zinger for ya: Pollan says that both caffeine and the minute hands on clocks came to Europe at about the same time. Yes, our obsession with not wasting time, billable hours/minutes was established with the “help” of caffeine. Drink more caffeine, sleep less, and achieve! (I've followed that mantra at various times in my life, I'll admit).

The military is heavily invested in caffeine. If you are in the middle of a drive, you need to stay awake and “sharp,” and it’s assumed caffeine will do the trick. Was reminded of that book, Blitzed, about how Hitler and the Nazi regime achieved some of its early success, blitzed on drugs.

Is there a good reason we caffeinate the soda that we give to kids?

I was never addicted to caffeine (I know, I know, all addicts says this!), but it took me years to discover that it affected me adversely. From my teens to my mid-twenties I--like almost everyone increasingly since the early seventies--drank a lot of caffeinated soft drinks. I was already an ADHD kid, and I never needed an alarm to wake me up, much less caffeine, and still don’t. I like the taste of a little coffee in the morning, I like the social culture of coffeehouses as I do bars for talk, but I have had to drink decaf most of my life or I spin out of control. I get the shakes with 2-3 cups of caffeinated anything. Caffeine would not make me a better soldier, trust me. But you know, everything in moderation, right?

I like the book and like him as a writer very much.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,975 reviews1,986 followers
July 31, 2020
Reminded by my GR friend Joe Kraus about this tale, I realized I never bothered to review it.

I really liked the information in this short hit of Pollan's ever-tendentious and trenchant ouevre. I tried, at quarantine's beginning, to acquire the skill of ear-reading yet again; I chose this because it's short and it's about my second-favorite drug; and it's Michael Pollan, whose works never, ever bore me.

I was snoring inside five minutes.

I tried six times in all to stay awake through the whole short thing, and failed. I ended up absorbing it like I did Ulysses: bit by bit, piece into piece, to form a whole. An enjoyable whole, but not remotely worth the effort I put in to acquiring it. If I'd read this in The New Yorker, I'd be warbling my lungs out for y'all to use up a paywall-limit read of it. This way of delivery, however, is what I've come to call "reading for TV people." It would fit neatly between commercials.

Chacun à son goût, to mildly mangle the original French. While I loved, among other things, the observation that caffeine and minute hands are roughly coeval in European society, it was a small payoff for a lot of effort that reading the piece wouldn't have been.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,718 followers
June 19, 2020
This was a lively and interesting audiobook on the history of caffeine and its effects on the body. My favorite part was Pollan's humorous description of his attempt to quit caffeine, and how quickly he felt sluggish and unfocused. His experience has affected my own caffeine use, and I've tried to set limits on my coffee intake. Recommended.
Profile Image for Cammie.
362 reviews12 followers
February 8, 2021
I definitely enjoy engaging and informative nonfiction, and Michael Pollan's Caffeine is just that. I was amazed by the science and history revealed in this short selection. He's not kidding with that subtitle: Caffeine really did create the modern world in more ways than one. Pollan also explores the addictive nature of caffeine, including his own detox while writing and researching about the topic ironically. It's crazy to think, but caffeine is most certainly the world's most popular drug of choice. I can personally attest to its power of persuasion.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,729 followers
March 16, 2020
I thought I reviewed this a few weeks ago. I'm not sure anymore. Social distancing + caffeine is screwing with my memory. Anyway, a good book, just not top-shelf Pollan. This one seemed like it could have been a forgotten (ugly step sister) to the four longish topics in The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World or like he was starting another drug book like How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, but ran out of steam once he stopped taking Caffeine and thus turned it into a short piece of Audible/Amazon.

Anyway, as a Mormon who drinks 20 cups a month, I still dug the book and dig the drug. I look back and Yes, I did publish a review back on March 5th. I'm not sure what is up.
Profile Image for Alan Teder.
2,063 reviews109 followers
May 25, 2021
May 24, 2021 Update I just learned that Michael Pollan's next book This Is Your Mind on Plants (Expected July 6, 2021) will include his history and observations on caffeine which were originally part of this audiobook. The new book will include information on mescaline and opium.

Addictive and Insidious
Review of the Audible Original audiobook edition (January 30, 2020)

Michael Pollan provides an excellent 2-hour overview of the history of caffeine (especially in coffee) and of its addictive and somewhat insidious properties with his personal anecdotes about attempting to quit drinking it. Along the way, his audio essay proposes the very credible theory that caffeine and its effects on the mind and body has been a major influence in the creation of the modern world. Examples are such as how something as small as Lloyd's of London started from a coffee shop location for businessmen to meet and turned into a major broker of shipping insurance. Even insects cannot escape being addicted as honey bees will turn to caffeine infused flower nectar over natural equivalents. And it is not just coffee, tea and energy drinks, look at the ingredients of most sodas and see that it is not sugar that may be drawing you to it, the most common ingredient is caffeine.

The insidious aspect is that our sleep cycles are disrupted by over-consumption of caffeine during the day and then after a restless night of fitful sleep we start the vicious cycle all over again by needing a jolt of caffeine to get going in our day.

This was a very entertaining and informative audiobook and I hope Pollan will continue to promote it via possible future print and/or ebook editions. His own narration of the audiobook was excellent.

Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World is one of the free Audible Originals for Audible members in February 2020. It is available to everyone for a standard price.

Trivia and Link
Read Michael Pollan's related review of Coffeeland: One Man's Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favorite Drug (expected April 6, 2020) by Augustine Sedgewick in the online edition of The Atlantic April 2020.
Profile Image for Roy Lotz.
Author 1 book8,278 followers
November 9, 2022
Since I had just finished a dry book about the science of alcohol, I figured that I should follow it up with something a little more stimulating. After all, caffeine and alcohol are the two chemical pillars of our society: one for work, one for play. And while we worry about how food additives and illegal drugs are affecting our brains, I thought it was worth taking a moment to learn how these two ubiquitous substances came to hold such sway over our society, and became so widely accepted.

Pollan apparently had the same idea—until, by his own admission, the project sort of petered out. This short audiobook is what resulted, just a sip of trivia and anecdote rather than a full serving. Pollan gives a sprinkling of history, a scrap of science, and spends most of his time telling us about his own experiment in giving up caffeine for three months.

I was surprised to learn that, unlike alcohol, the history of caffeine consumption is not particularly long. In Europe, coffee and tea drinking only really became widespread in the 17th century. As the populace developed a taste for the stuff, café culture began to supplant, to some extent, pub life—a switch that coincided with the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution (make of that what you will). It also coincided, not accidentally, with the rise of colonialism, as the coffee plant does not do so well in the forests of England or the mountains of Switzerland.

The health effects of caffeine are somewhat mixed. Everybody knows that it can make your mind sharper and quicker—or at least more awake. It even boosts athletic performance. And tea and coffee are quite rich in antioxidants. However, it must be taken into account that most of us are addicted; and many of the positive effects we ascribe to caffeine are just the alleviation of withdrawal as we get our morning fix. If the drug has a major drawback, it is that it can substantially worsen sleep quality, which is no small thing.

As far as Pollan’s own experiment in abstention is concerned, I must say that it was not particularly revealing. How did he feel when he quit for a while? Slower, more distracted, foggy—for about a week. After that, the negative symptoms mainly went away, and he enjoyed deep and refreshing sleep. When he finally broke his caffeine fast and had a double expresso, he says he felt—you guessed it—focused, productive, and euphoric. I can hardly describe these as groundbreaking results.

Even so, considering the book’s short length, its worthy topic, and Pollan’s entertaining and informative style, I cannot say I feel bitter about it.
Profile Image for Kon R..
241 reviews108 followers
November 21, 2021
A quick listen about a topic that affects the majority of people. This audiobook made me analyze my own coffee drinking habits. I enjoyed all the history included. Just like the author, I will continue consuming caffeine, but I'll be conscious of the consequences.
Profile Image for Mrs.Chardonnay.
83 reviews1 follower
September 8, 2023
This Audible freebie was right up my alley, as I'm a certified coffee addict.

Who knew? Caffeine actually has an interesting history. By the 15th century, coffee was being cultivated in east Africa, traded across the Arabian Peninsula, and within 100 years or so, coffeehouses proliferated in cities across the Arab world -- more than 600 of them alone in Constantinople. "These new public spaces were hotbeds of news and gossip, as well as places to gather for performances and games." Hello, Starbucks! We learn that literally, "a vat of coffee was put on trial in Mecca in 1511 for its dangerously intoxicating effects" (the conviction was overturned by the Sultan of Cairo), Balzac's thoughts on caffeine intoxication, and that Voltaire is said to have drank 72 cups a day.

But it’s due to much more than the sensory pleasures of coffee -- the rattle of beans being ground, the bubbling of the percolator, the aroma of steam rising – it’s the caffeine jolt that changed history. Pollan makes a solid case that "the power of caffeine to keep us awake and alert, to stem the tide of exhaustion, freed us from the circadian rhythms of biology." This can't be underestimated enough -- late work shifts, indeed the Industrial Revolution, wouldn't have been possible if not for the caffeinated beverages that sustained workers around the clock.

Wow! I knew I loved my morning cup of coffee. Now I respect it as well!
Profile Image for Donna Craig.
956 reviews42 followers
August 30, 2020
I actually finished this book three days ago. The fact that I’m still having fascinated thoughts about it makes it a 5. Michael Pollan’s research methods are always intensely personal, and this topic was no different. The man researched caffeine withdrawal in part by going cold turkey himself.
Better him than me.
However, I absolutely delighted in reading about his misery. And about all of the interesting stuff about why caffeine evolved and how it hooks us. And whether it’s bad.
This 2 ½ hour audio is an Audible exclusive. It’s streaming free for members now. Check it out. I was fascinated. This guy never lets me down. I feel so much smarter now!
Profile Image for Cori.
851 reviews147 followers
March 13, 2020
"The only socially acceptable drug we give our children on a daily basis."

Mr. Pollen's piece on caffeine was startling, funny, educational, and fresh. From the ridiculous amount of caffeine some historical/creative figures used to consume and the creative ways they would...er...drink their beverage to the hilarious responses religious and political groups had when caffeine first burst onto the scene, I was sucked in through the entire narrative of this Audible original. After listening to his well plotted documentary/personal experiment, I agree we would be hard put to find another plant that has had such an impact on changing the shape of history.

In July 2018, I stopped drinking pop which admittedly doesn't sound like a big accomplishment until you know I was drinking liters...LITERS...of pop every day. And energy drinks. January of 2020, I stopped drinking energy drinks as well. I want through horrific withdrawals- migraines, nausea, photophobia, bone weary exhaustion...you name it. For his piece on caffeine, Michael Pollen also quit cold turkey. I could commiserate with every miserable symptom he experienced.

BUT he then resumed caffeine once it had completely cleared his system in order to experience the drug without any tolerance. The results shocked him as he realized how powerful the effect on his body actually was. I'm tempted to start again. I miss the rush! But I've come to realize caffeine is an insanely potent, socially acceptable drug...which I love too much. I've learned I have to abstain from it completely because I can't stop at just one.

I'd rate this a PG.
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
633 reviews349 followers
July 12, 2021
Oh the pleasures and pains of coffee. In his essay on the subject Honoré de Balzac

“The state coffee puts one in when it is drunk on an empty stomach...produces a kind of animation that looks like anger: one’s voice rises, one’s gestures suggest unhealthy impatience; one wants everything to proceed with the speed of ideas; one becomes brusque, ill-tempered about nothing.”

Which perfectly explains why I had to give it up post menopause after enjoying its benefits my entire adult life. I’m so sensitive that even chocolate bothers me. I used to be such a productive person and thought it was just my nature. Hah!
Just over 2 hours in length and read by the author, it was entertaining, informative, and had me craving a triple shot cappuccino with extra foam. But I value my friendships and loved ones.
Addicts take note. Due to climate change, by some estimates it is predicted that roughly half of the world’s coffee growing acreage will be unproductive by 2050. The next global drug crisis?
Certainly there will be gold in them thar beans and it’s going to cost you.
But this won’t—another satisfying freebie from the Audible Originals library.
Profile Image for Montzalee Wittmann.
4,605 reviews2,309 followers
September 20, 2020
Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World by Michael Pollan is an interesting book about the history of caffeine, how it made its way through our lives, economy, society, and how its the only drug we give to our kids as a treat! It goes into many informative tidbits I found intriguing! Narrated by the author.
Profile Image for Rachelle.
368 reviews82 followers
November 7, 2021
As an avid coffee drinker, I found this one engrossing! It's a fascinating dive into caffeine and the world that has grown to not only love it, but rely heavily upon it.
Profile Image for Rissa.
1,420 reviews47 followers
April 16, 2020
If you have seen Matt DAvellas coffee video where he quits coffee for a month. That was basically this book.
Going through the withdrawals, what people get out of coffee and a bit of history on the beans and even bees 🐝 and their reaction to coffee.
Profile Image for Crystal Starr Light.
1,357 reviews831 followers
December 11, 2020
Bullet Review:

Audible has really upped their game with these free Audible originals. I've enjoyed Pollen's work in the past, and this one was no less enjoyable to listen to. Perhaps the saddest thing is the length - it's only 4 hours long, and usually Pollen's work is closer to 10 hours.

*Writes review while chugging second cup of cold brew, with another waiting in the fridge*

What? I don't have a problem.

*has a problem*
Profile Image for Becky.
832 reviews155 followers
April 10, 2020
A clever, informative, and at times cutting quick survey of Caffeine. Exactly what one would expect from Pollan in a long-form essay.
Profile Image for Matthew Green.
24 reviews1 follower
August 28, 2021
Very Americanised view of coffee with most of the book being about his 3 months without coffee rather than the history of caffeine
Profile Image for Morgan.
212 reviews18 followers
April 4, 2020
This has me seriously considering giving up coffee... next year.

On a serious note, this was good! I wasn’t expecting the amount of historical information which I found interesting. I liked how it was not preachy or judge-mental but allowed the readers to draw their own conclusions based on historical events, experiments, research and advice from experts in various fields.
Profile Image for Ross Blocher.
432 reviews1,387 followers
November 26, 2021
Caffeine plays an outsized role in this modern workaday world, and Michael Pollan provides a quick meditation on caffeine's history and impact. Rarely is caffeine acknowledged as a psychoactive drug, but most of us are under the influence: hopped up on a slightly altered state of consciousness. It makes us more alert and productive by staving off signals that would slow us down, and Pollan discusses the biochemistry of how that happens: caffeine is connecting with brain receptors that would otherwise be flooded by adenosine, which is still present (in greater numbers even), but can't find a dance partner. As a result, caffeine, with its 12-hour half-life, creates a problem that it is simultaneously meant to solve: tiredness. We megadose caffeine to get going in the morning because we didn't get the depth of rest that we could have gotten without caffeine in our systems in the first place. Pollan shares his discussion with sleep researcher Matt Walker, who would assert this interruption in our daily cycles as the one detriment of a chemical that otherwise seems to be a net-positive. Pollan makes his adventures personal, and for this book he cuts caffeine out of his diet to see what happens. The symptoms of withdrawal are marked, with him losing all interest and confidence in writing this very book we're hearing.

As you might expect, we also learn a lot about the history of caffeine, and which cultures discovered it in camellia (tea), coffea (coffee) and cocoa (chocolate). For a long time it was thought that tea offered a distinct stimulant, until chemistry revealed the active agents to be chemically identical. There's an interesting story behind how the plants spread (often through outright theft) and worked their way into culture: sometimes as a high-brow ritual (tea) and other times as a functional brew for the common-man (coffee). There are lots of interesting side notes about how caffeine fueled the industrial revolution, and refined rituals such as work breaks (which previously came with beer - not a great productivity booster).

It's worth the two hours, and will make you mindful of the role of caffeine in your life. I've never been a coffee drinker myself: if you hand me some, I'll drink it, but I won't seek it out on my own. I'm not wild about the flavor, and I have memories of my Dad getting headaches when he didn't drink enough coffee. My wife often makes tea at night, so I probably get a fair amount of caffeine from that... which is probably not great for sleep. I do have a bad soda habit, which makes soda my primary source of caffeine. It's annoying to learn in the book that, contrary to claims by soda makers, the slightly bitter flavor of caffeine is undetectable in taste tests, and it's only added because there's enough measurable addictive power in caffeine to make people drink more soda. Sigh.
Profile Image for book bruin.
1,198 reviews297 followers
August 25, 2021
3.5 stars

This was a short and interesting audiobook on the history and impact of caffeine on the world. It was fascinating to learn about the origins of caffeine and its effects on the body. It’s incredible how it has shaped history to become the world's most widely consumed psychoactive drug. The narration by the author was enjoyable and this was a great Audible original listen.
Profile Image for Audrey.
1,076 reviews167 followers
October 17, 2022
3.5 stars. I got this on Audible Plus when I needed something short to listen to when waiting for my library holds.

This is a short lecture on caffeine, focusing primarily on coffee and tea as its sources. We use it to be alert and focused. It increases productivity. Is it a symbiotic relationship, or is caffeine using us at our expense? Thanks to people, coffee and tea plants have spread across the world and are tended with great devotion. Much of the lecture is about his three-month caffeine abstinence experiment.

It turns out we are a sleep-deprived people. Caffeine masks fatigue. It does not cure it. The lack of rest and sleep many of us get is severely punishing on the body. The caffeine we consume in the morning is still present at night. We may think we have no problem sleeping, but the caffeine is preventing the really deep sleep, beyond REM, that we need.

Coffee and tea spread across the world (from Ethiopia and China, mainly) in the 1600s. Europeans switched from beer to coffee as a beverage of choice (water being still unsafe). Suddenly they went from a group of drunken louts to caffeine-crazed Renaissance artists, Enlightenment philosophers, and colonization-minded explorers. Coincidence?

Clean content
Profile Image for Joe Kraus.
Author 9 books102 followers
July 30, 2020
I know a lot of people praise Pollan’s An Omnivore’s Dilemma as a superb book, but I have never gotten around to reading it. Instead, I offer my praise for his Botany of Desire, one of the – if not the single best – science-writing books I’ve ever read.

Botany of Desire takes as its premise that, for all we think we’re in control, plants use us for their own ends. He points out, in one of his four compelling chapters, that a handful of apple trees have more or less conquered the world. Apples, he reminds us, don’t grow true from seed. That means if you plant seeds from an apple you’ve enjoyed and they grow into new trees, the fruit they produce will be different from the fruit you ate. They’ll look and taste different, and – in perhaps 999 out of a thousand times – they’ll be less delicious.

The way to get new trees that produce our familiar fruit is through grafting, to take a piece of the tree you like and splice it to roots that will cause it to grow. In that light, the Red Delicious apples we all eat all come from – in effect – a single tree. It’s gotten here because, by manipulating us humans through our preference for a certain kind of taste, our need for a certain kind of disease resistance, and our desire for fruit tough enough not to get bruised in shipping, it’s gotten us to use our scientific and industrial capacities to distribute more or less everywhere.

Pollan is a great writer, seemingly incapable of being boring. Each of his chapters is clever, and I felt smarter from each one. In fact, almost 20 years since I read it, I still find it helping to shape the way I see the natural world.

Caffeine, a book that I got as easily the best Audible freebie ever, is essentially a sequel to Botany of Desire. He doesn’t tell us that, but – especially in his closing reflections – he reiterates his thesis from the original book. Caffeine, as it appears in coffee and tea mostly, has manipulated us into making it the center of a global industry. We’ve taken plants that grew in scraggly parts of the Middle East and corners of Africa and distributed them almost everywhere they can grow. As he puts it, close to 90 percent of the world is dependent on the drug, making it so prevalent that a majority of us think of it as “base-line consciousness” to be under its influence.

There’s great stuff throughout this, and Pollan moves with grace from summarizing deep science to history to memoir. If good writing is all about getting inside the head of a clear thinker, then maybe great writing is getting inside the head and experiencing the rhythms of a great thinker.

Pollan could probably have made a franchise out of his Botany of Desire insights, selecting one after another plant that has conquered the world through the humans it’s manipulated. Instead, he’s gone on to other concerns and been – by all accounts – fascinating there as well.

As he revisits that theme here, he “re-boots” his old work in yet another fascinating way. He frames it as a memoir about the work of writing this very work. He tells us in the opening pages that it’s a challenge to write about the effect of caffeine when, as part of researching the book, he’s experiencing withdrawal from it. Caffeine helps people focus; in that it’s the anti-alcohol, and there’s an amazing section here where he speculates that the arrival of caffeine in Europe helped prepare a working class to move from agricultural work – where, with seasons and fields setting the parameters, being in a haze could help someone sustain slow and tedious effort – to industrial work where focus is more crucial for keeping up with machines and functioning as part of an integrated workforce. (In a typically brilliant throw-away connection, he points out that the minute hand on clocks arrived around the same time as caffeine in Europe.)

Without his daily hit of caffeine, though, he tells us that he finds it difficult to muster the focus he needs to write the book. To paraphrase, it’s almost like he’s trying to describe how he looks without having access to a mirror. Caffeine, he tells us, is so central to the type of mind that allows us to write that he cannot write about caffeine without it. It’s almost as if, having gotten humans to conquer the world on its behalf, it’s now demanding that Pollan write its story.

In any case, I remain convinced after this of what I was before. Pollan is an extraordinary writer, and, like some of the plants whose stories he tells, he makes us experience the world differently.
Profile Image for Carol Bakker.
1,207 reviews79 followers
October 19, 2021
I enjoyed the history of coffee and how we got to the consumption level we're at.

In 1991 I was doing the books for a bakery/coffee shop. The owner was living on fumes when expenses were subtracted from income. She up and bought a used espresso machine for $2500. I predicted impending insolvency. Who would pay $3 every day for a froufrou coffee? That espresso machine paid for itself within five weeks!

My husband took up regular coffee drinking when he was 42. I followed when I was 62. Whenour son moved back home it behooved us to buy a 12-cup coffee pot. If I had to choose one hot beverage, tea would remain in my life.

Perhaps the details of my coffee experience amuse you. Perhaps not. I am imitating Pollan, whose autobiographical notes make up a large part of this short book! (By the way, I enjoyed them!)
Profile Image for Obi.
84 reviews4 followers
August 2, 2020
This audiobook contains more info about the history, use, and efficacy of caffeine than you'll ever need to know. But if you ever wonder what caffeine is actually doing to your body, and on the fence about whether you should continue drinking that daily cup of Joe, this audiobook will help you make that decision. It's non-biased and informative. I think it's a must-listen for anybody that uses caffeine regularly.
Profile Image for Lauren.
268 reviews28 followers
October 21, 2020
Did you know that before the British drank tea, they drank coffee? In this fun little book we learn all the interesting parts of caffeines history. A story that is briefly derailed when the author decides to give up caffeine in an experiment. What follows is a bit of an ADD read that actually made they story even more fun. Turns out giving up the worlds most popular drug of choice will make you want to stay in bed forever and maybe give up on living. Spoiler: he makes it through. :)
Profile Image for Phoenix  Perpetuale.
206 reviews66 followers
April 11, 2021
It was very nice to get to know about the processing of the coffee and the history of how it made its way to our tables. It was also interesting to know about its addictiveness and how it affects our bodies and mental states. Especially the essential is a chapter where it explains how it interviews with our standard sleeping patterns.
Profile Image for ladydusk.
463 reviews192 followers
June 2, 2020
Pollan's a good storyteller and it was an interesting accompaniment to my cleaning this afternoon. Will probably keep drinking my 2 cups of coffee or tea every morning (by 10 am.) My favorite part was visiting the Peruvian coffee farm.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,747 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.