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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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The author does an excellent job of noting how coffee and the symbolic overtones it took functioned during the early modern period. However, he doesn't seem to know that even today coffee is known to have the side effects attributed to it then. He attributes qualities like "drying", etc, to symbolic or misinformed aspects of the humoral philosophy of medicine, and hypothesizes that "dryness" was attributed to coffee perhaps because it was roasted.
Well, while the humoral system was so flawed that that it was laughable, it wasn't entirely wrong. Coffee does dehydrate people. It does cause severe health issues today, and doctors tell people to stop drinking it or reduce intake for many of the same reasons. The terminology was different, but the observations were actually fairly accurate. I agree with the author that coffee was highly contested for socio-religio-political reasons and that the health issues were used to that end, but the author is wrong several times when he reduces those health effects to ONLY symbolic. They were both.
I'm actually hoping he resolves this a bit later. Sometimes people can come off heavy in an argument at one point in a text, and then modify that perspective later. This reader looks forward to finding out and if she finds it to be so, will alter her review accordingly.
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