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The True History of Chocolate Hardcover – May, 1996

4.2 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Coes, both anthropologists with a culinary bent, delve deeply into the history of their mouth-watering subject. The material on ancient cultures is particularly fascinating--did you know that the Maya used unsweetened liquid chocolate as currency? And in a chapter called "Chocolate for the Masses," they detail the modernization of chocolate manufacture, which has allowed more than 25 million Hershey's Kisses to roll off the conveyor belt each day.

From Booklist

The Coes' examination of the history of the "food of the Gods" is a delight that can be enjoyed on several levels. Historians should find the interaction between economic factors and the power relations in meso-America fascinating. Anthropologists can immerse themselves in the ample information illustrating how entire cultures were shaped and modified by the expanding value of the cacao plant. Finally, those interested in food science should find the extensive descriptions of chocolate production, from growth to refinement to delivery, to be both informative and thought provoking. The Coes are well prepared to write such a definitive history; the late Sophie had both a culinary and an anthropological background, while Michael has written extensively on pre-Colombian civilizations. The result is a superbly written, charming, and surprisingly engrossing chronicle of a food and how its development has touched the lives of cultures around the world. Jay Freeman
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson; 1st edition (May 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500016933
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500016930
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,206,494 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Sophie and Michael Coe have written a emminently readable history of chocolate. They emphasize the origins of cacoa in the New World, and the Spanish conquerors' response to their "discovery" of cacoa. The story fascinates, and I liked how the authors presented all the options when historical records were scarce or contradictory. The text is interspersed with clarifying illustrations, some are in color. The 19th and 20th centuries are covered in brief. The book ends with the resurgence in deluxe chocolates that use the rarer yet better tasting cacoa beans, and explains why these chocolates are so much better tasting than the supermarket candy bar. All in all, an excellent read.
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Format: Paperback
This book was an extremely readable examination of the history of chocolate, starting with the ancient MesoAmericans and ending with contemporary European and American chocolate makers. Anyone interested in the history and development of their favorite confection or beverage should read this book - it's written engagingly in the first half, and then peters out just a tad towards the end. I wished for more about the modern chocolate industry, and a little more about the current manufacturing spike in fine chocolates. But as an anthropological study revolving around the development of chocolate, I could ask for nothing more. Coe and Coe have inspired a chocolate tasting party and an academic interest in a gastrologic subject.
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Format: Paperback
Story book style of delivery made this book enjoyable for the entire family. This book was packed full of information yet the manner in which it is written made it enjoyable to read as well as retain. Very informative and interesting as well as fun.
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The bulk of the research, and most of the first three chapters of this academic book, were written by Sophie Coe before her sudden death from cancer in 1993. Her husband, Michael, undertook to complete the book as a sort of monument to his wife. It is a shame that Sophie Coe didn't write the whole book.

Michael Coe has taken a book about the history of Theobroma cacao (the chocolate plant) and turned it into an apology for the Aztecs and a bitter diatribe against Spain and, more diffusely, against Europeans in general, and against those benighted slobs who eat chocolate with less than 70% cacao. In the process, he commits many gross errors in scholarship that are severe enough that the critical reader begins to distrust him.

I developed a fascination with the Aztec and the Maya as a very young child and remember reading books about them in the very early 1970's. Even then, European and American scholars recognized that Aztec human sacrifice -- even the sacrifice of little children to Tlaloc in the cornfields -- wasn't carried out in a mood of sadistic glee, but because according to Aztec theology the gods and the sun needed blood in order to live or the universe would be destroyed. Aztec society was highly literate and they were supreme bureacrats, and they themselves documented tens of thousands of human sacrifices. They also documented the extent that royalty had to let their own blood by pulling spiked cords through their lips, and the fact that wars were carried out for the sole purpose of capturing prisoners so that priests could sacrifice them. One does not need to minimize anything about Aztec theology in order to condemn the Spaniards for dehumanizing the Aztecs.
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Format: Paperback
This book attempts to be two different things at once. First a history book about chocolate. The vast majority of the research was done by Sophie D. Coe before her death but even Mrs. Coe was a scientist who loved chocolate, not a historian in the truest sense. Her research in its time may been groundbreaking and certain was quite extensive but this second edition added no new material that I could find and scholarship on chocolate, on the central and southern American pre-historical peoples, and even genetics has advanced much. A good basic introduction this may well be but it is also very dated.

Secondly this book is a work of love. Finished by her husband, Michael D. Coe, who tried to pull together her research and write this book, it is an admirable book simply because of his motivation. However, the writing needs work in several sections that are awkward and an editor should have aided him more to make the the text clearer. The book is too heavily weighed toward pre-history where the evidence is most shaky and most changed over the decade plus since the book first came out. For later chapters the diagrams, images, and discussion are a good start but even there it feels uneven in terms of cultures covered and information given.

While Coe may have taken two years to pull together his wife's research and write the book, he really needed editorial help to see the places where there are gaps and to smooth out the roughly written sections. Furthermore a good editor should have insisted he or someone else update the book with the latest research. The diagrams and images are the best reason to buy this book but you'll want to think about the evidence before accepting interpretations; something you should do with any history book popular or scholarly anyway.
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