Coffee: A Dark History

By Antony Wild. W.W. Norton.

In this polemical, grandiose, yet thoroughly entertaining book, Antony Wild looks at the historical influence of coffee, for better and for worse. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Wild, a veteran coffee trader, credits the drink with opening the eyes of the world, literally. Once coffee usurped ale as Europe’s morning beverage of choice, the Enlightenment followed. The coffee shop is, he writes, “the place where all the best revolutions began.”

Ever since the Boston Tea Party, Americans have seen coffee as a symbol of their independence, and Wild insists that without the stuff, we would not be the hyperactively ambitious nation we are today. Instant blends helped GIs slog through World War II, while back home, caffeine fueled entrepreneurial baby boomers’ all-nighters. In this story, destiny always takes a second cup.

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The flip side of such boosterism is the devastating effect the coffee trade has had on the developing world. But Wild is hopeful that some benefits are starting to trickle down to Third World farmers. By paying extra for a cup of “fair trade,” latte lovers might make coffee finally live up to its revolutionary potential.