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What to expect

Brought to you by Penguin.

Coffee is one of the most valuable commodities in the history of the global economy and the world’s most popular drug. The very word ‘coffee’ is one of the most widespread on the planet. Augustine Sedgewick’s brilliant new history tells the hidden and surprising story of how this came to be, tracing coffee’s 400-year transformation into an everyday necessity.

The story is one that few coffee drinkers know. Coffeeland centres on the volcanic highlands of El Salvador, where James Hill, born in the slums of nineteenth-century Manchester, founded one of the world’s great coffee dynasties. Adapting the innovations of the industrial revolution to plantation agriculture, Hill helped to turn El Salvador into perhaps the most intensive monoculture in modern history, a place of extraordinary productivity, inequality and violence.

The book follows coffee from the Hill family plantations into the United States, through the San Francisco roasting plants into supermarkets, kitchens and work places, and finally into today’s omnipresent cafés. Sedgewick reveals the unexpected consequences of the rise of coffee, which reshaped large areas of the tropics, transformed understandings of energy, and ultimately made us dependent on a drug served in a cup.

© Augustine Sedgewick 2020 (P) Penguin Audio 2020

Critics Review

  • Wonderful, energising … Coffeeland is a data-rich piece of original research that shows in compelling detail how coffee capitalism has delivered both profit and pain, comfort and terror to different people at different times over the past 200 years … Sedgwick’s great achievement is to clothe macroeconomics in warm, breathing flesh.

    The Guardian
  • Thoroughly engrossing … his literary gifts and prodigious research make for a deeply satisfying reading experience studded with narrative surprise. Sedgewick has a knack for the sparkling digression and arresting jump cut, hopping back and forth between El Salvador and the wider world.

    The Atlantic
  • Both a curio-shop of forgotten snippets of history and quirky facts – who knew mocha was so called because it was shipped out of a Yemeni port of the same name? – as well as a theory of the modern world … there is much here to entertain, educate and – dare one say it of a book about coffee – stimulate.

    Financial Times
  • Sedgewick’s gripping book exposes the dark heart of what goes into making a ubiquitous commodity, cherished every morning, enshrined in the workplace and appreciated after a meal. It provides a devastating answer to the question: ‘What does it mean to be connected to faraway people and places through everyday things?’

    The Spectator
  • An erudite and engrossing socioeconomic history … With a forensic grasp of detail, Sedgewick charts the rise of mass-marketing and modern retail strategies through the story of the humble coffee bean … Yet Coffeeland‘s poignant message runs wider still. Ultimately, the story of coffee, today’s ‘unrivaled work drug’, is also the story of globalisation.

    Literary Review
  • Many fascinating details… Mr Sedgewick’s book is a parable of how a commodity can link producers, consumers, markets and politics in unexpected ways. Like the drink it describes, it is an eye-opening, stimulating brew.

    The Economist

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