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TASTES OF PARADISE Hardcover – July 7, 1992
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From Publishers Weekly
This "social history of spices, stimulants and intoxications" covers the Middle Ages to the modern era from the perch of an adroit and amiable Marxist sociology. For instance, at its European debut in the 17th-century coffeehouse, coffee officiated at the rise of the bourgeois technocrat; the brew's displacement from the coffeehouse to the home in the following century, the author argues, is a measure of the assimilation of bourgeois consciousness at the private hearth. Schivelbusch ( Disenchanted Night ) touches briefly on the pharmacological properties of coffee, chocolate, tea, tobacco, hashish, opium and alcoholic compounds, but his chief interest lies not in their chemical effect but in what society has construed them to do. The "dry" stimulant coffee was a prop or centerpiece in the bourgeois's sense of self; chocolate, associated with sensuality and taken while reclining, similarly served the aristocracy, until the engines of history relegated it to children. Although Schivelbusch is scholarly, he chooses not to burden us with reiterated evidence but to summarize the points of an apparently established record; his book is eloquent. Illustrations not seen by PW.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
YA-- A lavishly illustrated, anecdotal survey of all of the substances we chew, drink, or inhale for pleasure and how they were discovered and adopted by humankind. The book shows in fascinating detail how each stimulant, spice, or intoxicant served a particular need for an individual culture and how each, in turn, affected that culture and its behavioral norms. There is no index, but the table of contents is extensive, making it both an effective research tool and an enjoyable source of recreational reading.
- Richard Lisker, Fairfax Public Library, VA
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
Tastes of Paradise considers the social use of and social importance of spices, stimulants, and intoxicants largely from a Western point of view. It covers the use of spices, the coffee-related ethic of the middle class, chocolate, the rise of smoking and snuff, alchohol and the industrial revolution, and the rituals and places surrounding our drinking. What more could we talk about?
Turns out there's a lot more we could talk about, and what would be better is a book that really covers all three subjects. My disappointment boils down to three basic complaints against the book. The first is by far the broadest. In including "a social history" in the title, Schivelbusch focuses almost exclusively on the social effect of the use of the particular stimulant or intoxicant. Nowhere does he discuss the broader history of the item or the impact of the item on society (read "The True History of Chocolate" for a broader and more thorough presentation on chocolate, for example). My second complaint regards his treatment of specific subjects. Spices get remarkably short shrift (twelve pages total; less space than the discussion of drinking rituals; "Nathaniel's Nutmeg" is a better presentation on spices as a whole), and tea is only considered from the point of view of England (I'm pretty sure that the Chinese and Japanese drank tea, and that there's some social history there). Finally, there are more illustrations in this book than in most elementary school readers.
The book is immensely readable, does include -some- interesting illustrations, and covers admirably the impact on western society of the most popular stimulants and intoxicants from the 1600's to the late 1800's. However, there's an enormous amount that isn't there (except for the extra illustrations; those are presented wholesale), and in that the book disappoints.
Two points I found particularly of interest were how the fall of Spain as a world power led to hot chocolate's association with women and children. His brief description of opium as an agent of economic/political oppression also caught my attention. What I appreciated the most, however, was the use of art to substantiate his descriptions of place and manner of consumption. The art added a level of substantiation of his arguments that words could not supply.
True, as other reviewers have mentioned, this book does not cover the whole topic nor even treat all intoxicants with the same level of detail. However, he does provide an overview sufficient for many of us which serves well as a base for those who wish to explore further.