Wednesday, April 1, 2020


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.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

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