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And interesting but biased book with a narrow focus
on October 11, 2017
As a coffee lover, I had bought “Uncommon Grounds” several years ago because I was genuinely interested in the history of coffee and its impact on world history. I was totally misled by the book’s title.
As one other reviewer on Amazon had noted, it is clear that the author and/or publisher had deliberately packaged it as a world history of coffee in order to make it sell. A better---and more honest---subtitle for this book should have been “The Economics of Coffee and How it Transformed the Americas.” In reality, it is less a book on history than a very biased, polemical work NOT on the HISTORY of coffee, per se, but the ECONOMICS of coffee and how they transformed not the world, as much as how it transformed the AMERICAS. If one reads the book, you will notice that there is very little attention paid to the origins of coffee, how it had impacted Africa, Europe, Asia (including the Middle East), or the Pacific (except for Hawaii). The vast majority of the book seems to focus on the business of coffee and the competition between coffee companies and how they tried to one-up one another in selling their particular brand of coffee, and all of those companies are based in either North, South or Central America. I also was extremely irritated by how the author, a journalist named Mark Pendergrast, tried to pass off his personal tastes and opinions regarding coffee as objective fact. He constantly dismissed Robusta coffee---and probably other forms of coffee and/or other brands---as being objectively “bitter,” or “bad” coffee, while pointing to others as being “good” coffee, as if there is some sort of objective standard that everyone---including those who are known in the coffee business as “cuppers” (i.e. people in coffee factories who taste coffee at different stages of the manufacturing process)---all supposedly agreed on what types of coffee was “good” or “bad.” That is ridiculous. Imagine someone writing a cookbook and listing certain recipes as “good” or “bad” based solely on the fact that he or she did not like certain ingredients in the food. I wish Mr. Pendergrast’s editor had encouraged him to leave his own personal opinions out of the book, and I wish that he had been encouraged to add more chapters on the role coffee played in the history of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific. As a couple of other reviewers have pointed out, it appears that Mr. Pendergrast seems to define "the world" as the Americas---either out of a shocking ignorance of the fact that coffee is grown all around the world---including Ethiopia, where it was first discovered and Yemen, where it was first grown commercially and where it was first drunk as a drink in the Middle Ages. In fact, as a historian and a scholar of Islamic World Studies, it is worth noting---and this is something that the author does NOT mention this book, especially given the fact that this author focuses so much on coffee production in the Americas---that coffee was first introduced to the Americas by the Ottoman Turks in the 1600's and 1700's. I know this from my own study of the history of Islam and the Middle East. Given this book's narrow focus and its lack of objectivity, IF you choose to buy this book---particularly if you buy it in Kindle format as I had---I also HIGHLY recommend that you also download the book “All About Coffee” by William H. Ukers onto your E-reader as a supplemental source since, despite the fact that Mr. Ukers’ book was published in 1922, it nonetheless has THREE advantages over “Uncommon Grounds: 1) “All About Coffee” is much more comprehensive and really does focus on the ENTIRE WORLD, NOT just the Americas 2) Ukers' book focuses on ALL aspects of coffee---NOT just the coffee industry 3) Mr. Ukers’ book is much more objective and less polemical. I would also recommend that people buy the History Channel documentary, "Modern Marvels: Coffee."
To sum up, if you are interested in economics, or if you are somehow involved in the economic aspects of coffee, if you are interested in the history and/or politics of North, South or Central America and/or if you agree with the author's opinions about coffee, then this is your book. But if you are interested in a book on the HISTORY of coffee, and one which is OBJECTIVE and free of bias or spin, then please skip this book. If you want a book that will give you the objective facts about the HISTORY of coffee, then skip this one, and download "All About Coffee" by William H. Ukers onto your eReader instead.