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Coffeeland: One Man's Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favorite Drug

Coffeeland: One Man's Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favorite Drug


Augustine Sedgewick
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Coffee is an indispensable part of daily life for billions of people around the world—one of the most valuable commodities in the history of global capitalism, the leading source of the world’s most popular drug, and perhaps the most widespread word on the planet. Augustine Sedgewick’s Coffeeland tells the hidden and surprising story of how this came to be, tracing coffee’s five-hundred-year transformation from a mysterious Muslim ritual into an everyday necessity.

This story is one that few coffee drinkers know. It centers on the volcanic highlands of El Salvador, where James Hill, born in the slums of Manchester, England, founded one of the world’s great coffee dynasties at the turn of the twentieth century. 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. In the process, both El Salvador and the United States earned the nickname “Coffeeland,” but for starkly different reasons, and with consequences that reach into the present.

This extraordinary history of coffee opens up a unique perspective on how our globalized world works, ultimately provoking a reconsideration of what it means to be connected to faraway people and places through the familiar things that make up our everyday lives.

Augustine Sedgewick earned his doctorate at Harvard University and teaches at the City University of New York. His research on the global history of food, work, and capitalism has received fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Project on Justice, Welfare, and Economics at Harvard.

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