Good read for a Monday morning
I'm something of a coffee fiend and thus my attention perked at the sight of this review of a new book documenting a history of the bean and drink. As the review points out, histories of the world from the point of view of a particular concept or commodity have proliferated in recent years, each promising that its obscure subject has been crucial to the shaping of the Western World or the Universe As We Know It, or something like that. Whenever I sample one of these I'm reminded of one of Stanislaw Lem's pieces from A Perfect Vacuum, one of Lem's Borgesian collections of nonexistent book reviews, in which a professor seeks to undermine modern probability theory (actually, modern frequentist probability theory) by estimating the probability of his own birth. Of course, looked at closely enough, many outcomes appear to hang crucially on a lot of otherwise trivial circumstances, but that doesn't mean that those circumstances are important.
The "How Macadamias Saved Civilization" fad has produced several histories of coffee, including Uncommon Grounds by Mark Pendergast, which is on my Amazon wishlist, and The Devil's Cup by Stewart Lee Allen, which I read some months ago. Pendergast's book appears to be the most orthodox treatment of coffee's commercial and social history, as Allen's book is more travelogue/personal odyssey than it is a treatment of historical scholarship. That said, The Devil's Cup is quite entertaining. Once I get through them all, maybe I'll write a collected review.