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

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The epic story of how coffee connected and divided the modern world Coffee is an indispensable part of daily life for billions of people around the world--one of the most valuable commodities in the history of global capitalism, the leading source of the world's most popular drug, and perhaps the most widespread word on the planet. Augustine Sedgewick's Coffeeland tells the The epic story of how coffee connected and divided the modern world Coffee is an indispensable part of daily life for billions of people around the world--one of the most valuable commodities in the history of global capitalism, the leading source of the world's most popular drug, and perhaps the most widespread word on the planet. Augustine Sedgewick's Coffeeland tells the hidden and surprising story of how this came to be, tracing coffee's five-hundred-year transformation from a mysterious Muslim ritual into an everyday necessity. This story is one that few coffee drinkers know. It centers on the volcanic highlands of El Salvador, where James Hill, born in the slums of Manchester, England, founded one of the world's great coffee dynasties at the turn of the twentieth century. 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. Following coffee from Hill family plantations into supermarkets, kitchens, and workplaces across the United States, and finally into today's ubiquitous caf�s, Sedgewick reveals how coffee bred vast wealth and hard poverty, at once connecting and dividing the modern world. In the process, both El Salvador and the United States earned the nickname "Coffeeland," but for starkly different reasons, and with consequences that reach into the present. This extraordinary history of coffee opens up a new perspective on how the globalized world works, ultimately provoking a reconsideration of what it means to be connected to faraway people and places through the familiar things that make up our day-to-day lives.


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The epic story of how coffee connected and divided the modern world Coffee is an indispensable part of daily life for billions of people around the world--one of the most valuable commodities in the history of global capitalism, the leading source of the world's most popular drug, and perhaps the most widespread word on the planet. Augustine Sedgewick's Coffeeland tells the The epic story of how coffee connected and divided the modern world Coffee is an indispensable part of daily life for billions of people around the world--one of the most valuable commodities in the history of global capitalism, the leading source of the world's most popular drug, and perhaps the most widespread word on the planet. Augustine Sedgewick's Coffeeland tells the hidden and surprising story of how this came to be, tracing coffee's five-hundred-year transformation from a mysterious Muslim ritual into an everyday necessity. This story is one that few coffee drinkers know. It centers on the volcanic highlands of El Salvador, where James Hill, born in the slums of Manchester, England, founded one of the world's great coffee dynasties at the turn of the twentieth century. 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. Following coffee from Hill family plantations into supermarkets, kitchens, and workplaces across the United States, and finally into today's ubiquitous caf�s, Sedgewick reveals how coffee bred vast wealth and hard poverty, at once connecting and dividing the modern world. In the process, both El Salvador and the United States earned the nickname "Coffeeland," but for starkly different reasons, and with consequences that reach into the present. This extraordinary history of coffee opens up a new perspective on how the globalized world works, ultimately provoking a reconsideration of what it means to be connected to faraway people and places through the familiar things that make up our day-to-day lives.

30 review for Coffeeland: One Man's Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favorite Drug

  1. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    The focus, the range of this book, in my opinion was just too large, the back and forth nature, too confusing. There were parts I enjoyed, the changing nature of the scientific basis of what coffee is and what it does. The Post, Kellogg debate on its unhealthyness, a more natural caramel coffee that sounds hideous. A & P, the first to sell commercially its own coffee, recognizing its value as a moneymaker. Never expected to see Goethe and Balzac in a book about coffee, but it seems even they had The focus, the range of this book, in my opinion was just too large, the back and forth nature, too confusing. There were parts I enjoyed, the changing nature of the scientific basis of what coffee is and what it does. The Post, Kellogg debate on its unhealthyness, a more natural caramel coffee that sounds hideous. A & P, the first to sell commercially its own coffee, recognizing its value as a moneymaker. Never expected to see Goethe and Balzac in a book about coffee, but it seems even they had opinions on the ciffee debate. Also learned where and how the now expected coffee breaks came about. So there were interesting tidbits, here and there but it was sometimes hard to find them.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Oleksandr Zholud

    This is a non-fic about the expansion of coffee consumption and how low income coffee producing countries exploit their labor force to produce coffee beans, mostly consumed in middle/high income countries. The book is al over the place: pieces about the culture of coffee drinking interrupted by such far away themes as the first law of thermodynamics (no energy is created or destroyed) to the life of Friedrich Engels to the history of El Salvador to measuring human energy input in calories. While This is a non-fic about the expansion of coffee consumption and how low income coffee producing countries exploit their labor force to produce coffee beans, mostly consumed in middle/high income countries. The book is al over the place: pieces about the culture of coffee drinking interrupted by such far away themes as the first law of thermodynamics (no energy is created or destroyed) to the life of Friedrich Engels to the history of El Salvador to measuring human energy input in calories. While all are interested themes, they are too broadly presented and often one-sidedly. I read is as a part of monthly reading for August-September 2020 at Non Fiction Book Club group. While the book is about coffee as a drink is global in scope, in terms of coffee growing it mostly localizes itself at Santa Anna’s plantations in El Salvador and the US as the main consumer. While it mentions London coffee houses or Brazil coffee cartels, they are much less important to the story. As an example of one-sidedness, check the following piece: “Over the second half of the eighteenth century, coffee spread virtually everywhere in the Americas where there was sufficient sun, rain, and forced labor to make it pay. But in no corner of the Western Hemisphere did coffee take root as it did in Saint-Domingue—Haiti. By the end of the eighteenth century, the French island colony, home to 40,000 white settlers and 500,000 enslaved laborers, was producing half of the world’s annual coffee crop. The height of coffee production in Haiti was also its demise.” One can assume that coffee was the main export of Haiti, but several books on Haitian revolution, e.g. The Black Jacobins talk about sugar cane as the main crop. Such omissions are misleading. Another note that while a lot is taken by showing that the “division of the world into rich and poor paralleled the division of the world into coffee drinkers, overwhelmingly concentrated in the industrialized global north, and coffee workers, even more concentrated in the predominantly agricultural and perpetually “developing” global south. As the most valuable agricultural product of the world’s poorest regions, coffee has played a central role in shaping this divide.” However, no mention of Ricardian trade model from On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation/An Essay on Profits about the idea of comparative advantage and that trade is a non-zero sum game, but a lot about Marxism The development of El Salvador coffee economy is very interesting from stealing land from native population to using Taylor’s principles in production and creating a situation where there is no food outside a plantation kitchen (fruit trees intentionally cut down, etc), so hired laborers had to work to eat. Of course, such harsh methods led to left-led (incl. communist) revolt in 1932, which was severely put down with serious deathtoll among poor natives. And while the author stressed the capitalist injustice of work to eat principle, he is unaware that this was a direct norm in the Soviet Russia 1918 constitution article 18 (Статья 18. Российская Социалистическая Федеративная Советская Республика признает труд обязанностью всех граждан Республики и провозглашает лозунг: «Не трудящийся, да не ест!» - Article 18. The Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic recognizes labor as the duty of all citizens of the Republic and proclaims the slogan: "Who Does not work, does not eat!") The book has a very interesting pieces, but they aren’t structured and because they aren’t author’s own discoveries I give the book a low rating.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Madeline

    3.5 stars. Full review below! - Sedgewick provides a vast and detailed account of the origins of coffee in El Salvador, and how it came to take over the entire country, influencing the economy, government and lives of every single person in the country. The toll of coffee on El Salvador and other coffee monocultures is astounding—mainly on those who work in coffee fields and depend on that on-and-off work for the sustenance to live (literally almost starving during times between harvests). The par 3.5 stars. Full review below! - Sedgewick provides a vast and detailed account of the origins of coffee in El Salvador, and how it came to take over the entire country, influencing the economy, government and lives of every single person in the country. The toll of coffee on El Salvador and other coffee monocultures is astounding—mainly on those who work in coffee fields and depend on that on-and-off work for the sustenance to live (literally almost starving during times between harvests). The parts of this book that stood out the most to me were when Sedgewick focuses on the lives of the workers, planters and the harsh consequences of growing coffee in El Salvador. However, Sedgewick often goes off on tangents, giving us extremely detailed background information on topics that are barely tied to the story of coffee, such as thermodynamics and the birth of Communism. While you can understand how these ideas relate to the story Sedgewick was trying to tell, I often found myself confused and distracted from what I wanted to be the main narrative—what was going on in El Salvador. There are also detailed stories of various historical figures, and the children of planters (where they went to school, what they learned), which I think could have been useful if they were better tied into the story. I found that the narrative was jumpy, going from idea to idea, and rarely following a single narrative thread for more than a chapter. I wish reading this book was more of a smooth and focused ride, where we followed the development of the central planter family that Sedgewick introduces, the Hills, without any distractions. The end was also quite odd. In the span of two chapters, we jump over 50 years in history, where I am sure many interesting and relevant events occurred regarding coffee in El Salvador. After such a detailed historical journey, I expected the timeline to either end in the mid-20th century, or continue to present day with the same diligence. Instead, the ending is a choppy attempt to tie up loose ends, providing us with some view of present-day El Salvador and the coffee growers who still work there. I did gain a lot of new knowledge about the birth of coffee empires in El Salvador, but I left my reading with more unanswered questions, and a bit of an unsatisfied, frustrated feeling. I am curious to know more, which is a good sign, at least! I think this book is a good introduction to a wide variety of topics, but can sometimes get tiresome with its diversions. Thank you to Penguin Press for providing me with an advanced digital copy.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marks54

    This Is a fine book - more than I thought it would be when I started reading it. It is a biography of sorts, but of whom? A first try would be of a product - coffee - and its place in the US economy, both its production and its consumption. The attraction is clear, people drink lots of coffee and pay a lot these days to do so, although during the current confinement for the plague it is harder to get the required grande or vente coffee constructions at the local Starbucks for $4 or so. The coffe This Is a fine book - more than I thought it would be when I started reading it. It is a biography of sorts, but of whom? A first try would be of a product - coffee - and its place in the US economy, both its production and its consumption. The attraction is clear, people drink lots of coffee and pay a lot these days to do so, although during the current confinement for the plague it is harder to get the required grande or vente coffee constructions at the local Starbucks for $4 or so. The coffee break has been part of American work life since the Great Depression and WW2 and what better topic to talk about than coffee itself. The initial winners among the initial coffee brands also figure prominently - and they are also still available in grocery stores. ...but it is also a biography of coffee in one supplier country - El Salvador - and with it comes a masterful explanation of how the coffee plantation system there worked, along with the production logic behind the plantation system. Given the recent histories of Cotton and Slavery, this book is a nice complementary story. The picture of coffee production is unsparing and difficult to read in spots. ... but Sedgewick’s book is also a history of a key family in El Salvador coffee production - that of James J. Hill who played a prominent role in the growth of the industry there. In many histories of business families, I get concerned that punches might be pulled regarding family members. That does not seem to be the case here and the family portrait that emerges is fascinating. In addition to the above story lines, however, “Coffeeland” is also a political economy, both for the supply of coffee and the demand for coffee. In terms of supply, coffee production become industrialized and the production regime on the plantations became regimented similarly to how the nascent factories in Britain and the post-Civil War US became regimented. Everything became geared towards maximizing production, lowering costs, and lowering wastage. Sedgewick even goes into Hill’s supervisory practices for his plantations. These accounts are easy to make and harder to substantiate, except that they are substantiated here. Frederick W. Taylor was even brought in to help in establishing the coffee business. The role of the local government is also part of the story. On the demand side, there is also a complex story. Coffee’s increased US consumption and the enshrining of coffee as a near national drink was associated with the emerging US urban and suburban workplaces in the 20th century, as well as the growth of new distribution channels like supermarkets with the growth of suburbs after WW2, and even the timing of the Panama Canal’s construction, which aided the emergence of San Francisco as a center for the industry. The double sided political economy of coffee permits readers to compare the costs and benefits of coffee in their lives with the costs and benefits of those who labor to produce that coffee before it comes to the US. Such comparisons are more than a little awkward. ...and I will not read through discussions of “fair trade coffee” the same way again. The book is well written with short accessible chapters. There are lots of supporting references, including to earlier exposes of the coffee economy from the beginnings of the industry. The author has filled the book with lots of nuanced detail and references to the intellectual life of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (theosophy??). For example, you even learn why factories at the time were commonly referred to as “plants” rather than factories. I like business histories so this was an easy sell. Coffeeland is a superb example of the genre, however, and is worth reading.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lori L (She Treads Softly)

    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 sim 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. http://www.shetreadssoftly.com/2020/0...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Silvana

    Way too all over the place and hardly focused, but it has some interesting points on coffee plantation culture, the role of state (up to committing genocide on indigenous people to protect the ruling elite), the role of foreign government (in this case the US) to protect their coffee interest, and last but not least, the consumers' relationship with their coffee. How many of you actually know how much the price the planters paid for their workers? Way too all over the place and hardly focused, but it has some interesting points on coffee plantation culture, the role of state (up to committing genocide on indigenous people to protect the ruling elite), the role of foreign government (in this case the US) to protect their coffee interest, and last but not least, the consumers' relationship with their coffee. How many of you actually know how much the price the planters paid for their workers?

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rick Wilson

    If you want a lesson on what it takes to start an empire, here it is. An interesting combination of macro and micro economic factors that went into making James Hill one of the largest coffee producers in El Salvador. Interspersed with a general history and basic information on the bean iteself. From small ritualistic beginnings in Yemen to a global plant, coffee is ubiquitous. Its rise to prominence can be correlated to the rise of capitalism as a global system. This book does not take a kind l If you want a lesson on what it takes to start an empire, here it is. An interesting combination of macro and micro economic factors that went into making James Hill one of the largest coffee producers in El Salvador. Interspersed with a general history and basic information on the bean iteself. From small ritualistic beginnings in Yemen to a global plant, coffee is ubiquitous. Its rise to prominence can be correlated to the rise of capitalism as a global system. This book does not take a kind look at the imperialist bent of capitalism, and the author is not subtle with his opinion on coffee being a tool of a overzealous bourgeoisie, the issue being brought up no less than 20 or so times. That being said, he makes his point and after reading through his thoughts those 20 or so times, I would now agree. I was impressed by the depth of inquiry into methods and conditions the El Salvadorian people endured. And it really set the stage for the rise of communist thought in the region. It really illustrated how people cling to ideologies that are not the best long term, but represent a change from the status quo. (cough* blockchin* cough). Stylistically, the author at times appears to have drunk too much coffee himself, as the thread of the book will jump all over. One page we are talking about shipping and roasting, the next is a discussion of caloric intake and the minimum amount of food a human needs to survive. It works sometimes, it doesn't at others. I found it less interesting and engaging as the book wore on, as skipping back and forth across decades and continents regularly became tiresome. Overall, good read, interesting read, but a bit scattered.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    Despite the title, this is actually a history of El Salvador through a coffee filtered lens as well as a family that made themselves into one of the "Fourteen Families" political power entity. From the time that James Hill left England and arrived in El Salvador, he was a man driven to achieve, to not let his lower class origins hold him back and El Salvador of the late nineteenth century was the place he was able to do it. Lush and fertile, the government encouraged the development of private in Despite the title, this is actually a history of El Salvador through a coffee filtered lens as well as a family that made themselves into one of the "Fourteen Families" political power entity. From the time that James Hill left England and arrived in El Salvador, he was a man driven to achieve, to not let his lower class origins hold him back and El Salvador of the late nineteenth century was the place he was able to do it. Lush and fertile, the government encouraged the development of private industry, especially that of coffee trees. Hill would continue to buy some of the most fertile of land, that on the sides of the Santa Ana volcano and would experiment with varieties in order to get the most from the thousands of acres under his control. Sedgewick does go into the growth cycle as well as the difficulties in growing the temperamental coffee trees where even the slightest difference in humidity, temperatures, shade and sun exposure can not only cause changes in production but in the overall taste of the coffee. He also goes off on tangents. Like into early studies in calories vs. energy which Hill and the other planters did use - provided food in order to encourage workers to stay on the job for entire days. A meal at breakfast just before the beginning of the day and another meal at the end of the day, usually 10-12 hours later. If they wanted to eat - and most small farms had been bought up by the larger plantations - they had to work. It may not have been the strict definition of slavery but it was perilously close to it. And if the employees had the energy to talk and laugh, they weren't providing all the energy to the job he was paying them to do. Then there is the development of grocery stores - can see where it affected the increased demand for coffee in the U.S. The socialist and/or communism political agendas giving extensive background for the labor disputes between the workers and the planters allied with the government and eventually led to violent revolutions along with various leaders of the Salvadoran groups. The development of cupping as a determination of actually taste and aroma where previously appearance of the beans was a priority. Various coffee organizations within the U.S. And there is a lot of focus on the U.S. as well as Brazil with it's valorization of it's coffee commodity - warehousing tons of product in manipulate the price to the advantage of the Brazilian planters. Interesting look at one of the Central American countries that would be forced by colonial empires into monoculture economies - in this case, coffee, and next door it was bananas - that would devastate the environment as well as the populace. The Hill family is still prominent in El Salvador although they took a jarring hit when one of the adult grandsons of James Hill was kidnapped by revolutionaries and held for ransom in 1979. But in turn, as coffee consumption across the world increases, how many of the other producers are not only watching the price of a bag of beans but the political and emotional atmosphere in their country and of their workers. 2020-189

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Gray

    If you've never thought about coffee past free trade versus not (or latte versus americano), this is an amazing and educational read. We have James Hill, a British expatriate in El Salvador to thank for the way we drink coffee today. He moved production from small batch to (for want of better words) corporate, taking coffee from a drink for the rich to something accessible for almost everyone. Ironically, of course, the current trend among some is in the reverse. This is written in a journalisti If you've never thought about coffee past free trade versus not (or latte versus americano), this is an amazing and educational read. We have James Hill, a British expatriate in El Salvador to thank for the way we drink coffee today. He moved production from small batch to (for want of better words) corporate, taking coffee from a drink for the rich to something accessible for almost everyone. Ironically, of course, the current trend among some is in the reverse. This is written in a journalistic manner, although there are plenty of notes and opportunities to delve deeper. The characters involved and the politics go far beyond what I'd previously understood, making this an especially intriguing read. Thanks to Edelweiss for the Arc. An excellent read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    David

    Available as an unabridged 15-hour audio download. I downloaded this audiobook because it was mentioned favorably in “Caffeine” by Michael Pollan, a two-hour-long “Audible Original”. Pollan admits freely that he used Coffeeland as a source for his work, so it's no surprise that there is some duplication between the two books. However, I often need to hear things twice (at least) before I remember them, so this did not bother me. The book's prologue (“One Hundred Years of Coffee”) and its opening w Available as an unabridged 15-hour audio download. I downloaded this audiobook because it was mentioned favorably in “Caffeine” by Michael Pollan, a two-hour-long “Audible Original”. Pollan admits freely that he used Coffeeland as a source for his work, so it's no surprise that there is some duplication between the two books. However, I often need to hear things twice (at least) before I remember them, so this did not bother me. The book's prologue (“One Hundred Years of Coffee”) and its opening words (“Many years later, ….”) are shout-outs to the GG Marquez classic, but don't get your hopes up for any magic – just realism here. This book is really as much about El Salvador as it is about coffee, and the history of El Salvador, especially in the twentieth century, is all too real. The ambiguous real-life hero/anti-hero of this book is James Hill. Hill left Manchester, England penniless in 1889 as an 18-year-old, armed with a commission to sell textiles based on a year or so of Spanish lessons at home. He ended up the patriarch of one of the “fourteen families” that ruled El Salvador. At some times, he seemed a better man to work for than his fellow oligarchs, but at other times he showed a remarkably Scrooge-like attitude for someone who came from such humble surroundings. Hill sometimes disappears from the narrative for a while as the story bounces onto other topics, like, How can coffee make you feel peppier if, taken black, it has no calories? (Although this book raises this question, it does not answer it: to learn the answer, you can listen to “Caffeine”, see above.) A question (which I actually wondered about from time to time) that this book answered is: Whatever happened to indigo? I mean, if you read history, you know that it was a prized commodity and a source of much colonial exploitation, but today it's just a shade of blue. What happened to indigo, the commodity? Find the answer at audiobook chapter 16, time 15:15. At the end of Chapter 25, the author connects some disparate historical documents (a study of coffee production, a US Supreme Court decision) and uses some clever mathematics (swiped with attribution by Pollan) to show that the amount of coffee it took six cents (circa 1945) to produce in El Salvador eventually, when supplied in the textile factories of (at that time) Colorado, caused the employers to harvest an extra $22.50 worth of excess value from their coffee-consuming laborers. Worth a listen.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Anne Morgan

    "Coffeeland" is a fascinating look into the history of coffee through a focus on one coffee plantation family, the Hill family of El Salvador. Besides looking at the story of coffee as both a drink and a culture here in the United States, "Coffeeland" looks at some of the harder questions behind the coffee cup. How did coffee come to change El Salvador into a monoculture with vast gulfs between the very rich and the very poor? How has coffee influenced the economy of not only El Salvador, but mu "Coffeeland" is a fascinating look into the history of coffee through a focus on one coffee plantation family, the Hill family of El Salvador. Besides looking at the story of coffee as both a drink and a culture here in the United States, "Coffeeland" looks at some of the harder questions behind the coffee cup. How did coffee come to change El Salvador into a monoculture with vast gulfs between the very rich and the very poor? How has coffee influenced the economy of not only El Salvador, but much of Central America and the United States? I was most interested with the first half of this book, where coffee is put in a global historical context. Fascinating factoids about coffee and its' history are the reasons I pick up a book like this. I definitely appreciated learning about El Salvador's troubled history with coffee from an economic and social perspective, and learned more about the revolutions and massacres of the country than I had expected. The only downside to this book was a tendency of the author to explain in extreme detail the entire history of an idea- whether that idea is the development of economic theory, communism, or anything else. I understand the idea was to firmly root coffee's importance to those ideas, but a more Cliff's Notes version would have not only made those sections easier to read, but I might have not glazed over them and therefore lost what was trying to be explained in the first place. Details and research are important, but so if knowing when only a little background will go a long way. I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

  12. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    This careful review of the central role coffee played in world events is indeed thorough. Not only does it cover the details of coffee from the plantations to the cup, but also its historical role in international relations, especially between the US and El Salvador. The parts of the book that focus on the fine points of coffee's development as a commodity in world commerce, its preparation, marketing, and uses by industry are particularly informative, especially to anyone who enjoys their "coff This careful review of the central role coffee played in world events is indeed thorough. Not only does it cover the details of coffee from the plantations to the cup, but also its historical role in international relations, especially between the US and El Salvador. The parts of the book that focus on the fine points of coffee's development as a commodity in world commerce, its preparation, marketing, and uses by industry are particularly informative, especially to anyone who enjoys their "coffee break." Sedgewick avoids a dry accounting, however, by maintaining a focus on El Salvador and especially on James Hill, the most influential Latin American planter. Clearly, Hill was a complex man. He rose from poverty in the UK to becoming one of the wealthiest men in the Americas. He was intelligent, entrepreneurial, curious, and inventive. However, his main focus was always on profits. His only regard for the workers was how they might benefit his enterprise. Not unlike his peers at the time, his view of labor was as an asset for making profits. His motivations for humane treatment only derived from how such policies might benefit the success of his plantation. Clearly, this played a key role in the social and political unrest that El Salvador experienced throughout its history.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Colin Ng

    Coffeeland is a primer in the transition from colonialism to neocolonialism, from local government rule to transnational corporation rule, from independence to dependence. Situated in Latin America, concentrating on El Salvador, Sedgewick’s writing is a case-study of modern capitalism and globalization in the area. He uses the coffee industry and James Hill as a mode of delivery to show how a country’s way of life can be shaped by a single good. James Hill and many plantation owners (all of whom Coffeeland is a primer in the transition from colonialism to neocolonialism, from local government rule to transnational corporation rule, from independence to dependence. Situated in Latin America, concentrating on El Salvador, Sedgewick’s writing is a case-study of modern capitalism and globalization in the area. He uses the coffee industry and James Hill as a mode of delivery to show how a country’s way of life can be shaped by a single good. James Hill and many plantation owners (all of whom were either Europeans that married into coffee owning families or bought their plantations from local owners) determined that their plantations should be the foundation in which communities should be built around. In order to receive food, people had to work at the plantations. In order to receive wages, people had to work at the plantations. If they wanted any hope of survival, people had to work at the plantations. Plantation owners destroyed wild fruit and vegetable bearing vegetation, created central kitchens that produced all food that workers would consume, and issued plantation specific currency to their workers as wages. They employed men, women and children to work various jobs in coffee production. The book writes that “The transformation of the volcanic highlands into a coffee monoculture flattened the diet of El Salvador’s working people into a featureless plain of tortillas and beans”. The people of El Salvador went from independent, natural and free to dependent, plain and binded to plantations. This led to almost a century of bloody, violent conflicts between the wealthy and poor. The El Salvadorian people have had their landscape dominated by cotton, sugar, coffee production. They are not the only Latin American country, or even country in the world that has been transformed to serve capitalism. The book explains that the coffee’s success is due to the extension of productivity of workers. “Coffee breaks” were implemented to increase the amount of work a person would do in a given day, not because sometimes people need breaks during the work-day. To create fuel for white-collar workers in wealthy nations, corporations dominate poor nations to supply coffee. In order to keep people in offices, on task and energized, workers in the fields are suppressed and worked to the bone. An avid coffee drinker myself, I am conflicted. Exploring the history of coffee, especially through the lens of James Hill’s journey, has made me think twice about the cost of coffee. Capitalism runs on coffee, many countries that produce coffee are controlled by outside interests and their people suffer. Is it worth it? Is it fair? Why is coffee culture so prevalent? Who does coffee best serve? I am always happy to pay $1 for a cup of coffee, I thoroughly enjoy the coffee kick at 3 pm. But at what cost? A friend recommended getting coffee from https://equalexchange.coop/. A group that understands that “Fair Trade” isn’t exactly fair, that worker cooperatives are imperative to bringing workers’ rights into the fold, they provide information on who, where and how your coffee is being produced. I’ll try my taste buds on some coffee from Las Colinas cooperative which is situated on the site of an old coffee plantation in El Salvador. Responsible consumerism for now.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    I wish I could have liked this book more. It’s packed full of information that I want to know about and learn further about. Jamie Hill, American Coffee producer, and El Salvador, an country so biologically ravaged, that it’s practically unlivable, is an important story to tell. American coffee growers moved in at the beginning of American Imperialism and took over the country. The nearby volcanoes created rich soil that normally wouldn’t be there since its rain forest. They destroyed the rich v I wish I could have liked this book more. It’s packed full of information that I want to know about and learn further about. Jamie Hill, American Coffee producer, and El Salvador, an country so biologically ravaged, that it’s practically unlivable, is an important story to tell. American coffee growers moved in at the beginning of American Imperialism and took over the country. The nearby volcanoes created rich soil that normally wouldn’t be there since its rain forest. They destroyed the rich vegetation and out in coffee trees which poisoned the soil and killed the animals. It’s also prevented the people from food to eat. They were used like slaves and lacked the ability to have their own government, their only ability to get food was from the plantation owners. Jamie Hill comes in during the Depression and later. In a desperate confrontation, the people kidnap Hill. A 12 year long war ensues where people either flee or or are killed in large numbers. Their is no ability to survive in such a destroyed ecosystem except working for coffee plantations. The information is good and important but the writing is stiff and difficult to read. They sentences don’t flow well. I want to know more but will look four a better resource.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Du

    Ugh. This is a rambling and boring look at the coffee culture that came to be. Nothing too interesting or creative about the book. I'm glad I didn't pay for it (library book), but not glad I read it. Ugh. This is a rambling and boring look at the coffee culture that came to be. Nothing too interesting or creative about the book. I'm glad I didn't pay for it (library book), but not glad I read it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Brad Angle

    Some interesting history about coffee and El Salvador and economics and politics, but the writing was disjointed and jumped around so much it was difficult to read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    This was a hugely interesting history of coffee and its relationship with El Salvador. Very dense and full of facts, Coffeeland was a really enjoyable read for me as someone who loves a flat white and a bit of history.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jay Slayton-Joslin

    So yeah, pretty fantastic. Pretty much follows coffee from its origins to today, mainly set in El Salvador. Just as much a lesson about history and empires than anything else. Full of fascinating facts.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ben Rogers

    Coffee, my favorite drink! This book made me appreciate coffee even more. Interesting adventure read. 3.2/5

  20. 4 out of 5

    K.T.

    This book is about so much more than coffee and it’s origins in El Salvador. So much so that you’ll wonder why it was even included in the book. Sedgewick clearly did a ton of research and this reads a little like an over-eager dissertation.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    A fascinating history of coffee in Central America, a real eye-opener of a book. I wish I had a better grounding (no pun intended) in economic theory - this was way over my hairdo in a lot of places. But even a bear of very little brain can learn a great deal from Augustine Sedgwick, who writes and explains complex political and sociological theories beautifully.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Oren Auslin

    The way the author weaves past and present, coffee growing and international finance is fascinating. Finished the book in two days I couldn’t put it down.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tom Lawler

    Thought this book was considerably better than other reviews indicate. In brief, it's a story of how wealthy, mostly foreign plantation owners transformed rural El Salvador into a leading coffee exporter at the expense of the country's impoverished working class, who are deprived of private property and compelled to work on coffee plantations or face starvation. This inevitably leads to revolt and attempted revolution, which is brutally suppressed by the plantation owners, in collaboration with Thought this book was considerably better than other reviews indicate. In brief, it's a story of how wealthy, mostly foreign plantation owners transformed rural El Salvador into a leading coffee exporter at the expense of the country's impoverished working class, who are deprived of private property and compelled to work on coffee plantations or face starvation. This inevitably leads to revolt and attempted revolution, which is brutally suppressed by the plantation owners, in collaboration with the military, and eventually to widespread civil war in the 1980s and 90s. While I vaguely understood that El Salvador had plenty of violence in its recent history, I didn't quite realize the scale of the bloodbath. Eye-opening to say the least, and you can't avoid the conclusion that the U.S. (both the government and the consumer) are in some way responsible for what happened. There is a focus on plantation owner James Hill, his way of doing business, and the conditions that prevail on his plantations. While this story is interesting in and of itself, the author does a good job of incorporating 'high-level' discussion of global economics and the market forces that drive coffee production in South America, as well as novel scientific ideas about energy and thermodynamics that informed the way industrialists thought about labor (i.e. people as energy-transforming work machines). Much of the book is spent discussing the working conditions faced by the 'mozos' (working people) whose manual labor makes the coffee plantation possible. And we learn how plantation owners control the supply of food, making it necessary for workers to return to the plantation day in and day out to work for slave wages. Really interesting stuff. I've gone through most of my life without really learning anything about South American history, and this book makes me eager to learn more. Happy to take any recommendations from people who have read more in this area.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    Those only interested in learning tidbits about coffee will likely be disappointed; those hoping to better understand the world, will not. Sedgewick exposes the sordid history of coffee bean production in the underdeveloped world of Europe’s and the United States’ former colonies, focusing specifically on El Salvador. It describes how El Salvador was transformed over a half century from a virtual paradise, where the indigenous Indians farmed rich communal land and harvested plentiful wild fruit Those only interested in learning tidbits about coffee will likely be disappointed; those hoping to better understand the world, will not. Sedgewick exposes the sordid history of coffee bean production in the underdeveloped world of Europe’s and the United States’ former colonies, focusing specifically on El Salvador. It describes how El Salvador was transformed over a half century from a virtual paradise, where the indigenous Indians farmed rich communal land and harvested plentiful wild fruit and vegetables into a food desert where those same Indians were reduced to near slaves working for beans and tortillas and a few cents a day while the plantation owners, middlemen, and coffee drinkers (and their employers) reaped enormous benefits. Granted, learning about the exploitation and human rights abuses at the base of the capitalist global economy, and how former colonial powers like the US continue to extract wealth from, and block, often violently, the industrial and political advancement of former colonies, is not as enjoyable as would be a superficial book full of trivia about how coffee became the world’s most popular beverage (as is evidenced by the many mediocre reviews), but at least those reading Coffeeland with an open mind and without preconceptions will come away with a more accurate understanding of what it took to put that cup of coffee on their table and a truer portrait of the world we live in.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Carol Ann

    I learned so much about coffee and it's role in shaping the economy, particularly in El Salvador and Brazil. I'm glad I listened to the audiobook, as I am sure the hardcopy would have been a bit of a slog at times but interesting nonetheless. The author has conducted exhaustive research in telling the history of coffee along with the trade, developing, and managing coffee plantations as though they and the workers are strictly an energy efficiency equation driven by hunger. At first, it seems im I learned so much about coffee and it's role in shaping the economy, particularly in El Salvador and Brazil. I'm glad I listened to the audiobook, as I am sure the hardcopy would have been a bit of a slog at times but interesting nonetheless. The author has conducted exhaustive research in telling the history of coffee along with the trade, developing, and managing coffee plantations as though they and the workers are strictly an energy efficiency equation driven by hunger. At first, it seems impressive that coffee plantations employ so many people. Yet on the dark side of this tale it is a problem - not that so many people work on coffee plantations but that coffee plantations are the only choice of work they have available to them. From the Hills Brothers to exploitation, to uprisings and revolts, to coffee-making methods, to influencing coffee quality testing by taste rather than simply the appearance of the handsome bean, this book covers it. I found it fascinating to learn how the humble coffee bean has played and continues to play, such an important role in the lives and livelihoods of so many people.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Conard

    Instead of thinking about things over a cup of coffee, Coffeeland will cause you to think differently about the coffee inside it. Extensively researched and well written (Michael Pollan notes, accurately, that the author has a knack for the jump cut and interesting digression), the book ranges across European immigration to Central and South America, the history of science, international trade policies and lending practices, the reshaping of El Salvador's economy and politics around the monocult Instead of thinking about things over a cup of coffee, Coffeeland will cause you to think differently about the coffee inside it. Extensively researched and well written (Michael Pollan notes, accurately, that the author has a knack for the jump cut and interesting digression), the book ranges across European immigration to Central and South America, the history of science, international trade policies and lending practices, the reshaping of El Salvador's economy and politics around the monoculture of coffee, the socially transformative effects of war, and the role of the US in helping to create and sustain the repressive political regime of Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez in the 1970s. At a time when the term "globalization" has come to mean many things, Sedgewick gives us a fascinating account of the process.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Matthew LaPine

    Comprehensive and informative history of man's relationship with coffee, told primarily from the perspective of a single grower, James Hill. Hill emigrated from the UK to El Salvador with little more than the shirt on his back, and methodically built one of the largest growing operations in the country. Through his travails we learn where coffee started, how use of it spread, varieties that are grown and how it is cultivated. We learn about distribution, storage, the growth of canning companies Comprehensive and informative history of man's relationship with coffee, told primarily from the perspective of a single grower, James Hill. Hill emigrated from the UK to El Salvador with little more than the shirt on his back, and methodically built one of the largest growing operations in the country. Through his travails we learn where coffee started, how use of it spread, varieties that are grown and how it is cultivated. We learn about distribution, storage, the growth of canning companies and retailers in the United States. Most importantly, we learn of the exploitation of the indigenous peoples of El Salvador and the conversion of their economy from diversity and plenty to a coffee monoculture caste-like system. The history follows multiple revolutions and wraps with a discussion of "fair trade" coffee, which is not what we think it is. Informative and intriguing.

  28. 5 out of 5

    pugs

    the title really undersells this book, as do some of the low score reviews. it's "all over the place" in an adam curtis documentary sense, putting historic shards and anecdotal pieces on display and connecting an ambitious narrative along the way. i was not expecting so much focus and exposure on imperial countries (vs companies), and sedgewick does not hold back on exploitative and sometimes literal gory details, especially in relation to u.s. backed genocidal forces in coffee growing nations. the title really undersells this book, as do some of the low score reviews. it's "all over the place" in an adam curtis documentary sense, putting historic shards and anecdotal pieces on display and connecting an ambitious narrative along the way. i was not expecting so much focus and exposure on imperial countries (vs companies), and sedgewick does not hold back on exploitative and sometimes literal gory details, especially in relation to u.s. backed genocidal forces in coffee growing nations. engels's (lenin mentioned, too), writings on abysmal labor and living conditions in industrial manchester/u.k. transition into similar treatment in central american and south american coffee plantations, and onward to colonized countries even further. so far, that many terms we use for coffee today were intentionally branded in ways to hide colonization and enslavement of coffee growing areas, such as java and mocha (the combined phrasing jamoke/joe, i'd argue, too). the book focuses heavily on the workers of coffee plantations, how planters used hunger against them physically and monetarily, even philosophizing what exactly - is - the point of work? to which economists skewed to their favor, trying to create scientific equations to life = work, the normal capitalist bullshit, but also trying to use figures like calories and energy from coffee in new ways to exploit. which brings into question, at what point is the natural human body worked over, and is the use of coffee on employees (where we got coffee breaks from) just a way to extract more labor for lesser cost? grocery store sales, absurd bean quality inspection, storing product to raise prices, burning literal tons of coffee beans at sea to manipulate prices, international banking, communist uprisings, capitalist imperialist military intervention, and a handful of names and companies continuing their grip on production along the way, all often anchored around el salvador, there's something for everyone in 'coffeeland,' and i especially recommend it to those interested in leftist/international politics/economics; it exceeded my expectations and i'll never think of coffee the same way again. from the beginning of its commercialization, through the great depression and "fair trade," we have never paid enough per cup, and the ethics of coffee drinking are just as important today.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Wojtkun

    Reading this extensive research and factual account of the history of coffee--(and how it's so popular and "the thing to gather 'round" today), will make you appreciate COFFEE all the more...for me, the research was a "bit too much" at times, but did enjoy it--and,yes, I love coffee and appreciate those who brought it to us to enjoy. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Coffee is an indispensable part of daily life for billions of people around the world Reading this extensive research and factual account of the history of coffee--(and how it's so popular and "the thing to gather 'round" today), will make you appreciate COFFEE all the more...for me, the research was a "bit too much" at times, but did enjoy it--and,yes, I love coffee and appreciate those who brought it to us to enjoy. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Coffee is an indispensable part of daily life for billions of people around the world--one of the most valuable commodities in the history of global capitalism, the leading source of the world's most popular drug, and perhaps the most widespread word on the planet. Augustine Sedgewick's Coffeeland tells the hidden and surprising story of how this came to be, tracing coffee's five-hundred-year transformation from a mysterious Muslim ritual into an everyday necessity. This story is one that few coffee drinkers know. It centers on the volcanic highlands of El Salvador, where James Hill, born in the slums of Manchester, England, founded one of the world's great coffee dynasties at the turn of the twentieth century. 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. Following coffee from Hill family plantations into supermarkets, kitchens, and workplaces across the United States, and finally into today's ubiquitous caf�s, Sedgewick reveals how coffee bred vast wealth and hard poverty, at once connecting and dividing the modern world. In the process, both El Salvador and the United States earned the nickname "Coffeeland," but for starkly different reasons, and with consequences that reach into the present. This extraordinary history of coffee opens up a new perspective on how the globalized world works, ultimately provoking a reconsideration of what it means to be connected to faraway people and places through the familiar things that make up our day-to-day lives

  30. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    This book tells the story of coffee production in the 1800s and 1900s through the story of a family of plantation owners - the Hills. James Hill moved from England to El Salvador in order to sell textiles. He married into a plantation family. Over the course of his life, he changed the way coffee was grown in El Salvador. In the process he changed El Salvador from a relatively peaceful country with a wide variety of agriculture to a violent country almost entirely planted in a monoculture of co This book tells the story of coffee production in the 1800s and 1900s through the story of a family of plantation owners - the Hills. James Hill moved from England to El Salvador in order to sell textiles. He married into a plantation family. Over the course of his life, he changed the way coffee was grown in El Salvador. In the process he changed El Salvador from a relatively peaceful country with a wide variety of agriculture to a violent country almost entirely planted in a monoculture of coffee. The author of this book goes off on a lot of tangents from this story. He spends a huge amount of time talking about energy. People in the 1800s were trying to figure out how to get the most work out of people with the minimal cost to employers. Planters in El Salvador had a very cruel system. They forbid their workers to pick any food crops that they might find on the plantations. They also destroyed as many sources of food as they could so workers would be dependent on the plantation owners giving them food. If they didn't work, they didn't eat. People who missed a day's work went hungry, even on scheduled days off. The plantations were big enough and they worked long enough hours that it was almost impossible to get to a town for food. I'm not surprised that eventually people violently rebelled. My problem with this book is that it tried to cover too many topics. The history of coffee History of Central America Discovery of energy How people learned to ship coffee How coffee was graded How coffee became a loss leader in grocery stores Why free trade doesn't work very well and on and on..... Honestly, I would have probably stopped listening to this audiobook if I didn't need a book about El Salvador for my Around the World Challenge but I pushed through. This review was originally posted on Based On A True Story

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