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The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug Paperback – September 12, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0415927239 ISBN-10: 0415927234 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge (September 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415927234
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415927239
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.9 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,145,926 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From The New England Journal of Medicine

This book covers the history and social effects of the principal beverages that contain caffeine, notably coffee and tea. Products of cacao, chocolate that is eaten and drunk, and the soft drinks that contain caffeine (principally colas) are also covered. The historical origins of coffee, tea, and cacao are described, as are the various fascinating ways they made their way into world culture. Some of the main features of this story are told with a theme of geographic spread and with a description of effects of the arrival of "the drug," as the authors often refer to caffeine, on existing cultures. How the different beverages were received (or rejected) by different cultures and by different strata and segments of each culture makes a rich and exciting story. Insights emerge as to how the various civilizations worked. The pleasure of reading is enhanced by the authors' eye for beauty and the many appropriate half-tone illustrations. The scholarship is impressive; many of the most famous figures of the past 500 and more years make brief appearances. Among them are Chinese emperors, Zen Buddhist monks in Japan, nameless Olmecs of Mesoamerica, and then Cortes and Montezuma and Charles V. The conquest of Europe by the drug from Turkish and African sources is also covered. The familiar names of great historical figures appear on almost every page, tying this account in with our knowledge of history and making it more real. The text is rich with information, yet it is easy and pleasant to read.

Social factors are discussed. For example, there are comparisons of the tea culture of England with that of Japan and comparisons of both with the coffee culture of the United States. The duality of the culture of coffee (as in coffee houses) and the culture of tea (as in tea shops, tea gardens, and afternoon tea) is emphasized and illustrated with a list of more than 30 word pairs. One word in each pair is labeled the "coffee aspect" and the other the "tea aspect." The list of coffee aspects starts with "male," "boisterous," and "bohemian" and ends with "Balzac," whereas the list of tea aspects starts with "female," "decorous," and "conventional" and ends with "Proust." Cola beverages are said not to have a long enough history to have features as well differentiated as these, but they do have distinctive associations, such as "youth, high energy, America, pop culture, and `good clean fun."' Although the authors emphasize that all these popular beverages contain the drug caffeine, the diversity of the cultures associated with the different beverages suggests that caffeine is only one factor leading to their consumption.

True to its title, the book has little to say about alcohol, but the authors do make the important point that, at least in Europe and North America and at least in the large towns, raw water was not fit to drink until late in the 19th century. The increase in tea and coffee drinking offered an alternative to the usual beverages: beer, gin, and rum. The authors credibly associate this shift with a decrease in alcohol intake, to the benefit of society.

In the second half of the book, the nature of the story changes. The urbane historical perspective gives way to more recent concerns, including a discussion of what might be called huckstering by purveyors of caffeine products. Almost the final third of the book is devoted to the chemistry, pharmacology, and medical aspects of caffeine. I do not think that in a book of this size it is possible to present enough of an understanding for readers to reach their own conclusions on adequate grounds about the health and safety aspects of caffeine, and in many instances the original sources must be scrutinized for the adequacy of the evidence. In addition, there are errors. For example, a woman is said to have had a serum caffeine concentration of almost 300 mg per milliliter, which is many times the solubility of caffeine. Readers can remain confused, they can accept the often implicit conclusions of the writers, or they can opt out and simply trust the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

A number of minor matters follow. Pure caffeine is variously described as "highly toxic" or "extremely toxic." An agent that can be ingested in amounts of several grams with relative impunity would not customarily be considered very toxic. A number of common foods -- dry mustard, horseradish, or cayenne pepper, for instance -- would not go down well as boluses of several grams. The poison of the puffer fish, whose flesh is eaten in Japan, is highly toxic, being hazardous in quantities thousands of times smaller than ordinarily consumed quantities of caffeine.

Finally, the authors aver that the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) was founded to help forestall efforts to regulate caffeine. But the FDA was regulating caffeine long before the ILSI was formed. The Caffeine Technical Committee of the ILSI was formed by interested companies to sponsor research on questions on caffeine raised by the FDA and others. It is prohibited from lobbying.

Peter B. Dews, M.B., Ch.B., Ph.D.
Copyright © 2001 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Readers who, like Prufrock, measure out their lives in coffee spoons will appreciate the background on their drug of choice provided by science writers Weinberg and Bealer. The authors wander through caffeine's history, exploring coffee's Arabian origins, tea's roots in Asia, and chocolate's background in the Americas. They consider how these different forms of caffeine found their way to Europe, and how they were accepted in different countries, ultimately suggesting a nexus between this drug and reliable clocks as essential contributors to the Industrial Revolution. In examining "caffeine culture," Weinberg and Bealer discuss three nations--Japan, England, and the U.S.--where caffeinated beverages are particularly popular, and then discuss the role of these beverages as the new millennium begins. The book's last two sections shift from history and anthropology to chemistry and biology, considering the nature of caffeine and its relatives and by-products, and the effects, positive and negative, of caffeine on specific organs and on mental function. Includes photographs and cartoons, charts and graphs, and a number of useful appendixes. Mary Carroll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

May be too much of a good thing for the casual reader.
Marshal Mercer
Weinberg and Bealer guide us through the facts and the folklore, the history and the pharmacology of the world's favorite drug.
Dennis Littrell
The book is written in a very evenhanded tone without a noticeably pro-caffeine or anti-caffeine agenda.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Bladerunner B26354 on June 7, 2001
Format: Hardcover
"The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug" is the best book found on the subject. No other book even comes close to the scope of this important topic covered in such magnificent detail! Nearly 400 pages in length encompassing seventeen highly informative chapters separated into five distinct parts, this jewel of nonfiction work by authors Bennett Alan Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer is sure to mark it's place in history as the best in its class.
Part I, "Caffeine in History" tells everything you could possibly want to know about this powerful, world's most popular drug, from the Arabian Origins to its refined, almost religious use in Europe, blending into Part II. Part III discusses the role of caffeine from a cultural standpoint and works its way into Part IV, "The Natural History of Caffeine." Of particular interest to me is Part V, "Caffeine and Health," specifically Chapter 15, "Caffeine and the Body," Chapter 16, "Thinking Over Caffeine: Cognition, Learning, and Emotional Well-Being" and Chapter 17, "Caffeine Dependence, Intoxication, and Toxicity." The details of how caffeine permeates every cell in the body are clear, straightforward and very comprehendible. This book was written in a classical narrative style, wonderfully free of slanted opinions and unrelated ramblings in an instructional tone. This is one of the most beautifully arranged and printed hardbounds that I have found, so much that after only a few minutes I had to get my own copy!
It is clear to me now that there are far more benefits to caffeine than detriments. It has been proven to increase alertness, improve concentration and even to help with weight loss, and much more.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Lawrence R. Volz, M.D. on January 21, 2001
Format: Hardcover
As a physician I found the information in The World of Caffeine both comprehensive and enlightening. I discovered many facts that I will be passing along to my patients who may not realize how much caffeine they are taking in and all the ways in which it may be affecting them. Caffeine has many potential benefits for the mind and body and a few dangers of which people should be aware. Especially sobering are the discussions of possible deleterious effects on children and a serious warning about the unknown dangers of fetal exposure. Incredibly, this is the first serious book ever written about a drug that is used almost universally. If you are going to use a drug, you should know as much about it as possible. I strongly recommend this book to everyone who uses caffeine-- in coffee, tea, colas, or pills-- and that includes almost everyone.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Derrick Smythe on January 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book rocks! If you drink coffee, tea or cola you need to get
this book. I'm not sure which is more fascinating-- the hundreds of
surprising medical facts about caffeine's effects on the mind and
body, or the astonishing part caffeine has played in culture, art,
religion, society, politics, science and literature.
Caffeine is the
driving force behind the explosion in cafe culture, the drug of the
computer world and the Internet, and necessary part of just about
everybody's daily life. And the authors really know to tell a story
and there are hundreds of great stories from all over the world and
throughout history.
Amazing health facts include that caffeine
actually improves your short term memory and helps you perform certain
mental tasks more quickly and with fewer mistakes. Even more
incredible, that caffeine actually grows new brain cells. The book
also raises some serious warnings about caffeine use in pregnancy, a
risk that has been pretty much overlooked by the FDA.
I would say
that this book gives a unique perspective on understanding history and
modern society as well as offering a wealth of practical information
about how to get the most out of the drug almost all of us are
addicted to.
It also has dozens of illustrations and charts and
wouldn't be a bad gift for the caffeine addict in your life.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Who knew that caffeine had such a fascinating story?
I received a copy of the book as a Christmas present from a family member who knows of my love of the cappuccino, and I must say I was suprised by what Weinberg and Bealer have discovered about the drug. The scientific and medical material is interesting and useful (to pretty much everybody, as apparently most of the world ingests caffeine daily in one form or another), but it was the cultural and social history that I found really engaging. A tiny example: Did you know that Bach wrote a "Coffee Cantata"? Neither did I, and I'm not sure I'll ever have a use for this snippet, but it's good just to know it.
Anyway, I really enjoyed the book and can't imagine a better researched or more interesting treatment of "the world's most popular drug."
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
What we need is a drug that can help people engage each other socially, that can provide mental and physical stimulation and increase creative energy, that is pleasant to ingest, that is cheap enough for almost anyone to use, that does not encourage antisocial behavior or ruin careers or families, and that will never harm the prudent user. Proof that we need such a drug is that ninety percent of the world's population already uses it. The drug is caffeine, and every aspect imaginable of it is covered in _The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug_ (Routledge) by Bennett Alan Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer. If you are at all interested in knowing more about the drug you almost surely use on a daily basis, here's a wealth of information for you.
For instance, why is it that so many plants make caffeine? There's coffee, of course, and tea, and cocoa. Then there's cola nut, maté, and guarana, and yoco, and others you have probably never heard of and which have no commercial value. Caffeine within a plant possesses capacity to kill harmful fungi and bacteria. It can kill weeds around the plant, and bother insects. Pure caffeine is so dangerous to humans that labs which make it have to have ventilation and mask and glove their workers. It is possible to kill yourself with caffeine, but it isn't easy. Drinking a hundred espressos quickly might do it, but getting all that liquid down might present a little difficulty. This dangerous a drug ought to cause some real problems, but other than sleep disturbance, it is really quite seldom that anyone has a difficulty with caffeine. In truth, there have been countless studies of what caffeine does to the body, and virtually no ill effects can be traced to it.
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