From Publishers Weekly
A scholar in ecology and social theory, Redclift traveled the Yucatan to research this in-depth, richly detailed history. "The story of chewing gum is very much a Mexican-American affair," he notes, beginning with Mexicos 75-year-old General Santa Anna on Staten Island in 1869. Believing Yucatan chicles rubber-like qualities could launch a rubber tire industry, the ambitious Santa Anna struck a deal with inventor Thomas Adams. Failing to concoct a rubber substitute from the springy sap, Adams instead succeeded with his licorice-flavored Black Jack gum. Consumers went wild, and other entrepreneurs leaped in, including, in 1893, William Wrigley. With free gum samples mailed to millions, Wrigleys innovative ad campaigns made him one of Americas 10 wealthiest men. His factories produced 280 million sticks of gum weekly, which had far-reaching implications in the Yucatan jungles: "The production and sale of chicle on the part of rebel Mayas Indians... was allowing them to buy arms to fight the Mexican government." American gum manufacturers were dependent on supplies from land controlled by the Mayan rebels, and since "the geopolitics of hemispheric relations lies at the heart of the story of chewing gum," the book has 75 pages on military conflicts, impoverished forest workers, the chicle economy and international harvesting and production methods. With gum added to WWII service rations, 150 billion sticks were shipped overseas, but bubble gum synthetics brought the era of Mayan-harvested chicle to a close. While some readers may be interested in the books concluding chapters (which cover abandoned chicle camps, tourism possibilities and renewed interest in chicle for natural organic products), the omission of Bazookas contribution to the chewing gum world, as well as the books overall dry tone, take away from this books general appeal. B&w illus.
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The story of chewing gum encompasses consumerism, Mexican-American relations, and indigenous culture. Gum's constellation of influences even includes Mexican general Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, British historian Redclift informs us, whose chance 1869 meeting with one Thomas Adams instigated the birth of the industry. From that rendezvous, Adams learned about chicle, a tree sap chewed by the inhabitants of the Yucatan Peninsula. Adding spices, sugars, and enticing packaging, Adams made millions, as did an even more successful marketeer, William Wrigley. The ramifications of the American chewing-gum fad deeply affected the people, descendants of the Maya, who collected chicle under arduous conditions and who resisted the central government until the Mexican Revolution sorted itself out in the 1920s. Turning from gum as political force to gum as cultural force, Redclift interestingly explains its advertising-driven associations with youth and rebellion, boosted by its inclusion in American military rations in World War II. Readers will be rewarded not only by the straightforward history but also by the author's discernible fondness for the people and place of Yucatan. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved