The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the Worlds Most Popular Drug

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When caffeine began to be used centuries ago in the form of coffee, tea, and chocolate, its use was controversial and its full effects were not known. Although who takes caffeine, the forms in which it is taken, and how researchers study its effects have changed significantly since then, the fact that its use is controversial has not.


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Furthermore, although scientists have experimented to determine its effects on a number of organisms—from spiders and rats to humans—they have not been able to come to many conclusions about its harmfulness. Its benefits are widely known and are, of course, the reason it is and has been so widely used.

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Bennett Alan Weinberg and Bonnie Bealer struggle with caffeine's indeterminate status as a drug, in large part because they believe it is harmful. Much of the book emphasizes the "drug" aspect of caffeine-containing products and contrasts its possible dangers with the elaborate and celebratory rituals that cultures have created around its consumption. This literary construction sets up a nice narrative tension that, unfortunately, is quickly deflated by the last section of the book, which states that definite conclusions about caffeine's long-term harmfulness are not yet available because the number of factors that affect the body's reaction to it make experimentation difficult.

As a result, one finishes the book distrusting the authors' thesis and even feeling misled.

The strength of The World of Caffeine lies in its compilation of anecdotal information on how cultures adopted coffee and tea and the resulting impact on many aspects of those cultures, such as their economics, architecture, agriculture, diet, literature, politics, and laws. In addition coffee, particularly but tea as well , became a social organizer in that people gathered to consume it publicly and privately in combinations that differed from former social arrangements.

- World of Caffeine

It was not unlike the effects on American society of restricting smoking to certain areas; people combine and socialize because of their use of a product, but then extend that sociability outward. One example of how coffee induced this phenomenon is the Royal Society: it arose in seventeenth-century Oxford out of informal gatherings known as the Oxford Coffee Club, whose members initially gathered while imbibing coffee—not for its taste, but for its pharmacological benefits p.

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This book can best be used as a reference tool for anyone interested in the [End Page ] natural and cultural history of coffee, tea, and chocolate, and in the current science of caffeine. The authors have compiled information from a large number of secondary sources on the history, production, and preparation of those products; from some primary sources; and from scientific studies.

Their presentation is very well written and interesting, but eclectic in that it looks closely at the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, skips over much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and then focuses on the end of the millennium. However, because the book contains an excellent index and four lengthy appendices, the reader can locate even the most elusive information. No cover image.

Caffeine is the "Drug" of Choice in Many Cultures

Read preview. Synopsis This natural, cultural, and artistic history of our favourite mood enhancer tells us more, by looking at how caffeine was discovered, its early uses, and its unexpected role in medicine, religion, painting, poetry, learning and love. Excerpt The earliest employment of [coffee and tea] is veiled in as deep a mystery as that which surrounds the chocolate plant One can only say that…they have all been used from time immemorial, and that all three are welcome gifts from a rude state of civilization to the highest which exists today.

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