Coffeeland by Augustine Sedgewick
Penguin Random House; 4/7/20
eBook review copy; 448 pages
Coffeeland: One Man's Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favorite Drug
by Augustine Sedgewick is a very highly recommended discourse on the
history of coffee working from the perspective of the Hill family
plantation in El Salvador.
Like many people in the world my day revolves around coffee, so I
understand existentially why coffee is one of the most valuable
commodities in the history of global
capitalism. The fact that it is the leading source of the world's most
popular drug, caffeine, is simply a bonus. In Coffeeland, Augustine Sedgewick traces the history of coffee consumption and its spread across the world.
The story is told through the life of a
prominent planter in El Salvador, James Hill. Hill, a British ex-patriot, founded a coffee dynasty by shifting the focus from communal subsistence farming to growing a staple crop, coffee. "Adapting the innovations of the Industrial Revolution
to plantation agriculture, Hill helped to turn El Salvador into perhaps
the most intensive monoculture in modern history, a place of
extraordinary productivity, inequality, and violence." The USA is the world's biggest coffee market, thanks in part to Hill's distribution plans
and the invention of vacuum-sealed tin cans.
But this fascinating history is not only focused on Hill and El
Salvador, it also covers a myriad of other topics that all tangentially
relate back to coffee. Sedgewick covers the wide reaching world economic
impact and political machinations of coffee. There are so many aspects
of history that involves coffee, areas that I never really considered
before reading this interesting narrative. The interplay of various
aspects of history is really brought alive in Coffeeland.
This is a well-written and meticulously researched book. Sedgewick
provides a copious amount of notes for each chapter, as well as a large
selected biography. This is an excellent choice for those who enjoy
history, especially if you also like coffee.
My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.