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on October 25, 2010
I had a hard time deciding which part of The Coke Machine I found most compelling. In the first third of the book Blanding creates an absolutely riveting history of the Coca-Cola corporation despite being shut out for interviews by company employees. Court documents with corporate officials admitting that the original formula had coca leaves and kola nut in it are juxtaposed against current corporate officers' claims to the contrary. Blanding examines Coca-Cola's aspirational advertising push (or should I say "putsche"?), with the company focusing less on product quality and more on emotional branding, including some arm-twisting contracts with public schools designed to brand 5 year old kindergarteners and train them to have a Coke with that gap-toothed smile.

The last section of the book deals with Coca-Cola's constant growth, requiring globalization and aspirational marketing that paints Coca-Cola as a squeaky-clean beverage company even if the reality is dirtied water supplies in India, contaminated sludge sold as fertilizer, toxic chemicals in recycled tap water marketed under the Dasani brand in England and France, or the snuffing out (quite literally, in the case of the murder of union organizer Isidro Gil in Venezuela) of union organization worldwide.

The Coke Machine ties together disparate memes such as obesity, underfunded public schools, environmental damage, corporate overreach and globalization and does it well. A wild ride and a great read.
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VINE VOICEon December 7, 2010
Books in the business profiles categories typically fall into two categories - blind adulation or angry tirades. This one tries to avoid becoming "Exhibit A" for the latter...almost admirably. Blanding does a good job in outlining some of the key controversies Coke has been involved in - bottled water, water pollution, handling unions,impact of advertising on kids, etc. While Blanding takes on a decidely, pre-determined critical view of Coke's role, the issues are well recounted, though one would hard-pressed to find anything significantly "new" information.

Blanding's eagerness for a passionate argument for encouraging readers to take a critical look at Coke would have been helped if the book was better organized - perhaps across 3-4 themes - environmental (bottled water, pollution in India), union and labor standards (most of the events around bottlers in Latin America) and other issues such as advertising and obesity. The frequent shifting of the narrative from one of these themes to another is distracting and prevents Blanding from building a real case, even if there is sufficient research (mostly by his own interviews) into his narrative. In fact, the final chapter, "The case against coke" is a disappointment - instead of summarizing the key arguments and suggest remedial measures and/or any actions by an average reader, Blanding falls back to continue his narrative and fails to make a powerful closing argument.

Blanding's recounting and first-person reporting on the issues around bottlers/unions in itself an interesting read. Perhaps, focusing on this theme alone would have given the book far more attention than what it will probably receive. Overall, a well-researched re-hash of Coke controversies - that unfortunately doesn't live up to its potential. An OK read. 3.5*
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on October 14, 2010
If you're planning on reading Blanding's THE COKE MACHINE there's one thing you need to be prepared for: you'll walk away from the book with a Coke jingle or two stuck in your head indefinitely. Despite this, the book is an excellent read that should be passed along to family and friends because when you're done with it you'll want to discuss it.

From a purely aesthetic point of view, THE COKE MACHINE is well organized, strongly researched and superbly written. The introduction begins with a grueling story of a murdered union worker in Columbia and compels the reader to consider the complex question of corporate responsibility for moral and ethical behavior in the face of a corporation's drive toward stakeholder profits. Blanding builds momentum by describing the history of Coke, its ad campaigns, and its national struggles to resist any negative mark on its brand image. Part two weaves Coke's international story through Mexico, Colombia, India and Guatemala, raising questions about Coke's role in environmental destruction, water shortages, dismantling of unions, and even murder.

There's something interesting for everyone in this book, because the Coca-Cola Company is ubiquitous within the United States and internationally, and because it has affected all of our lives whether we realize it or not. As The Coke Machine describes, Coke has spent its more than one hundred years in existence protecting its image and sales beyond anything else; the "dirty truth" about Coke that Blanding so factually lays out before us. If you're a parent, the book's chapter on "The Battle for Schools" should not go unread. If you're a social activist, there are lessons to learn from the international labor struggles workers have suffered at the hands of Coke (or their bottlers, as Coke might argue, passing the buck on social responsibility). If you're an environmentalist, Coke's role in international water shortages and pollution as described in THE COKE MACHINE cannot be ignored. And if you're a fan of the hit AMC television series, MAD MEN, you'll undoubtedly find the chapters on advertising as deep, dark and mysterious--yet also painfully revealing--as the dapper Don Draper.

Calling on all of us to hold Coke accountable, Blanding makes the difficult task of holding a mirror up to a massive, beloved U.S. based corporation look easy through his use of strong interviewing and writing skills. The question remains as to a corporation's true role in its larger community: brand image and profits versus moral and ethical social responsibility. While these need not be mutually exclusive, Blanding puts Coke on serious notice, and forces all of us to question whether Coke actually "exists to refresh and benefit everyone it touches" or if its existence is about something else entirely.

Laura L. Noah's editorials have been published in the NEW YORK TIMES, THE SUN MAGAZINE AND GIRLFRIENDS MAGAZINE.
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VINE VOICEon March 14, 2011
The author's writing style just didn't click with me, and paying attention was harder than I expected throughout this book. That's probably just a personal quirk, but its the main reason why I'm only giving this three stars. With as much explosive and dirty material as the pages contain, I expected a much higher fascination factor.

That said, the information proffered is excellent, all-encompassing and well organized. I already knew Coke was terribly bad for you on a dietary level, and had heard about their infiltration of schools and machinations in the obesity debate. But I'd had no idea how galling the company's policies and practices were at the corporate and international levels. I gave up soda years ago, but if I hadn't I'd definitely be motivated to do so now!

This expose is well worth everyone's time and attention, and genuinely deserving of the praise it received from Real Food icons like Marion Nestle.
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on January 3, 2011
I discovered this book through my advertising industry newsletter. Most people in advertising are familiar with Coke's powerful branding being responsible for their lead in sales over the years, despite taste-test preferences toward Pepsi. I read the book with plans to delve deeper into the history of their advertising over the years, but also because I have an interest in health and nutrition, especially the fight against child obesity.

This book certainly shed insight into both topics, purportedly referencing other historical or nutritional accounts of Coke. Most of the book addresses Coke's modern history in terms of unions and environmental impacts within two countries, then American's response to international human rights affairs. It was part of the story I didn't find as interesting, yet the book was heavily developed in these sections.

Overall insightful, full of unflattering data which has probably been somewhat manipulated for effect. Don't read it as fact, read it as an editorial essay.
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on October 26, 2010
In the Coke Machine, Michael Blanding does do a very good job at exposing how Coca-Cola has allowed its moral compass to drift and at times is guilty of practices that are questionable at best. At worst they are criminal. The most interesting aspect is that he shows how the company's sole focus on growth has had terrible costs both in the U.S. and overseas.

Still he comes up short in portraying Coke as pure evil. One glaring omission on his part is when it comes to the exclusive vendor contracts. While he does not state it, the implication is that Coca-Cola was the driving force behind these. In fact Reebok was the company that started the trend and their terms were virtual enslavement. When it comes to contracts with schools Coke never rose higher than 4 behind Reebok, Nike, Adidas and Pepsi/Frito-Lay.

I also found his argument about Coke sharing responsibility for the obesity epidemic specious. As we saw in Supersize Me, school started to offer Domino's pizza and frozen high fat snacks rather than real foods for lunch. Now that fresh salads grown at community gardens are being used, cities like Philadelphia and Buffalo have seen a sharp drop in obesity. Also, health awareness and exercise programs are having a major impact.

I did enjoy reading about Colombia. If Coke is guilty of one thing it is of having agreements in foreign markets which benefit them, while allow them to shield themselves from the law by claiming they own 49% of the organization. Coke is trying to have its cake and eat it too. I don't think they paid terrorists to kill union organizers but then again they didn't exactly act outraged when it happened.

All in all this is an interesting book with one man's interpretation of the facts. Let that guide you but read it because it is interesting, if terribly one sided.
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on September 25, 2011
The author goes into astonishing details of how Coke went to subdue the Killer Coke campaign and plans to build a workers union in Columbia. It was alarming to read that Coke also ignored the facts of obesity caused by Coke consumption in America and continuously pushed its products to schools and colleges in the US. The author has done an amazing job of exposing Coke's polluting of water and Coke products in India.
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on March 4, 2013
I went in to this book hoping to get more detail regarding Coke's behavior in the world regarding third world water supplies. This is a topic covered toward the end of the book, but is by no means a dominating theme. Most of the book examines capitalism itself and uses Coca-Cola as the poster boy for the economic system. It usually does not shine a favorable light on the subject.

The first section is a summary of the companies first years and how exactly it came about. This part is very interesting and it is especially nice to have a concise version of events not sanitized by the marketing drones in the corporation. The author leans heavily on more substantial volumes regarding the subject and is very up front about that at all times. I found the story quite fascinating, but was happy to read the abridged version. I may grab one of the references mentioned to have on the bookshelf at some point.

After the history lesson, which really does help to understand later decisions, the book heads right into labor relations and the inevitable conflicts. It feels like almost any corporation doing business in third world counties could be substituted here for the same effect. I'm not saying that this is bad material or that this isn't a very worthwhile discussion. But if a reader is looking for Coke specific behaviors I think this will be a disappointment. Again, the issue the author seems to be making is that multi-national corporations are difficult to hold to any degree of accountability and Coke is used as the example.

The book then discusses the obesity issue and the link to Coke. This is more on target for the books title. But again, Coke has lots of company on this issue. The more interesting facet to this section is the legal and public relations battles fought over pouring contracts in schools. This is an area unique to soft drinks and dominated by Coke. Although this was not the issue that made me order the book, I found this to be very interesting and relevant. In the end though, it read like any other tale of activism versus a big companies PR/legal dynamic duo. Every victory for the little guy was hollow at best and often furthered the agenda of the very company they faced. It reminded me of Microsoft a great deal.

The last section delves into the territory I was most intrigued by from the beginning. The role Coke plays in local water supplies in third world countries has been questioned by multiple reporting sources. I found this to be disappointing as well. The writing treats this issue like any other environmental issue focusing on how much water is consumed and how much waste is returned to the ecosystem. This isn't unique to Coke at all and can be studied using so many players it could be a book itself. The one strange twist was the idea that bottling plants appear to have been selling the poisonous sludge to local farmers as fertilizer. That was creepy. But again, the author seemed to be using Coke as the example for very common problems. I was looking for more about the reported instances of Coke making back room deals to secure all water rights and then pricing Coke product cheaper than clean water. The text touched on these ideas, but they were never the main thrust of the writing.

I don't want to come across as dismissive of this book or the ideas inside. They are incredibly important questions to be asking in this day and age. And the book is very well written and impeccably documented. But I just felt a little bait and switched coming in to read about the Coca-Cola company and finding the very real dark side of capitalism and multi-national corporations instead.
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on May 15, 2013
You know what I found compelling about this book? Even my 12 year old grandson was interested in it's content. This is a great read for adults and adults who would like to educate their children about the REAL story behind Coke!
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on January 19, 2015
Some of the chapters start out or include smutty little portions which should have been part of a grocery store tabloid rather than a history of the company with the most-recognized trademark in the world. Maybe this portions belong in the story; the reader must form his/her own opinion. The book is pretty much a no-holds-barred collection of anecdotes and characters who have made the company what it is today. It includes the Pepsi wars and fights for survival as America's and the world's tastes have demanded. Many readers, including this one, were probably not aware that Coke had bottlers in Nazi Germany when WW II was in full swing. Other revelations may strike the reader as reasons enough to drink only distilled water.

With its many twists and turns, it constitutes a readable and interesting yarn, not among my top ten or even 100, but still a pretty good book.
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