Coffeeland: One Man’s Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favorite Drug

Penguin Pr. Apr. 2020. 448p. ISBN 9781594206153. $30. ECON
Combining biography with a socioeconomic study, Sedgewick (history, City Univ. of New York) examines the consumption and growing of coffee. The biographical portion focuses on British ex-patriot James Hill, a prominent planter in El Salvador from the end of the 19th century through his death in 1951. Sedgewick recounts how coffee became a beverage of choice in the United States, and how it transformed formerly diverse El Salvadoran agriculture into a monoculture. He details the difficulties Hill and other planters had to overcome with growing conditions, labor, and global price fluctuations. Also discussed are scientific and marketing breakthroughs and the more sensitive subject of how Hill and other planters used food and hunger to coerce labor from workers. Sedgewick also covers the interplay of coffee with world wars and the Great Depression, along with revolution and poverty. He concludes that coffee is the commodity that best explains how the global economy functions between producers and consumers and what that relationship says about fairness and justice.
VERDICT Sedgewick’s wide-ranging work is most appropriate for readers with a serious interest in food economics.

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