Books by Mark Pendergrast

CITY ON THE VERGE by Mark Pendergrast
Released: May 16, 2017

"A welcome look at a city—a mass of cities—not often heard from in the urban-studies literature and of wide interest well beyond the I-95 corridor."
Given enough political will and enough choice, we can save the world. Or, as this case study shows, we can let things continue to go to hell in a handbasket lined with peach blossoms. Read full book review >
Released: April 13, 2010

"Fans of medical mysteries will find scores of EIS case histories to slake their appetites in this meticulous history."
Pendergrast (Mirror Mirror: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection, 2003, etc.) provides an exhaustive account of the "shoe-leather epidemiologists" who trek to the world's troubled spots when a serious or unusual disease strikes. Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 2003

"Impressive in its wide-ranging research, and sometimes ovewhelmingly detailed: best consumed a chapter at a time."
An encyclopedic treatment of the looking glass, from the bathroom variety to its use in high-powered telescopes. Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 1999

An exhaustive, admirably ambitious examination of coffee's global impact, from its roots in 15th-century Ethiopia to its critical role in shaping the nations of Central and Latin America. Pendergrast (For God, Country, and Coca-Cola, 1993) explains almost everything we'd ever want to know about coffee. The story begins in the mountains of Ethiopia, where goat herders first discovered the pleasures of the coffee bean. Arab traders helped spread coffee to Europe, where it became a 17th-century sensation. Soon the imperial powers of Europe established coffee plantations from Java (a Dutch colony) to Brazil (a Portuguese colony) to Haiti (a French colony), enslaving the indigenous populations. Even after freeing themselves from centuries of imperial control, the coffee-growing nations remained under "coffee oligarchies" that exploited local peasants. Today, most coffee workers "live in abject poverty without plumbing, electricity, [or] medical care." Afraid of leftist rebellion in Latin America and eager for low-cost coffee, the US has actively supported these oligarchies. Pendergrast does a fine job exploring the disturbing economic inequalities behind every cup of coffee. He also analyzes how the boom-and-bust cycles of the coffee harvest have destabilized nations like Brazil, Colombia, and Costa Rica. After WWI, coffee emerged as a major American industry—advertising helped turn Maxwell House, Folgers, and Hills Brothers into household names. With intense competition, coffee quality was often sacrificed for low price. By the 1960s, coffee quality was so low that a "gourmet" coffee movement emerged, led by purists such as Alfred Peet. While the "gourmet" coffee movement reacted against bland, mass-produced coffee, it's now identified with a corporate giant called Starbucks, whose aggressive tactics Pendergrast skillfully describes. Should be read by anyone curious about what goes into their daily cup of Java—too often, good coffee isn't good for the people who produce it. (60 b&w photos) (Author tour) Read full book review >
Released: May 4, 1993

While the subtitle of Pendergrast's study suggests an ambush of Coca-Cola, the author obviously received at least semiofficial assistance in compiling his gossipy, essentially sympathetic history of a company that has attained cultural as well as commercial success. In a saga notable for vivid anecdotal detail, journalist Pendergrast toes the chronological line and appears more interested in telling lively tales than in providing a standard reference on the colossus of the soft-drink trade. The vastly entertaining, if episodic, narrative gets down to business with the story of Asa Candler, the Atlanta-based pharmacist who acquired rights to a patent medicine hawked as Pemberton's Tonic, renamed it Coca-Cola, and launched what became a multinational enterprise. The founding father's heirs sold out to Robert Woodruff in 1919; during his long tenure, the new patriarch single-mindedly focused on making the brand as familiar a symbol of America around the world as the stars and stripes. For over 90 of its 100-odd years, however, Coke has vied with upstart Pepsi for dominion in consumer outlets. Stung by the latter's steady inroads and cheeky ad campaigns, the young executives who took control of Coca-Cola during the 1980's ordered a change in the legendary formula. The public and press reacted furiously to any tampering with the flavor of the iconlike beverage, forcing the company to beat a hasty retreat. As Pendergrast makes clear, Coke has since recovered from this blunder and—despite ongoing problems with environmentalists, human-rights activists, and allied critics—has continued to expand its extraordinary franchise. A chatty, scrupulously documented account of a corporate phenomenon (and far more revealing than Elizabeth Candler Graham's The Real Ones, 1992) that's a bit like Coke itself: zesty and transiently refreshing. (Eight pages of photographs—not seen) Read full book review >