A savory and spirited cultural history of caffeine, with summaries of pertinent scientific and medical research on the properties and effects of the world’s drug of choice.
Weinberg and Bealer (freelance writers with backgrounds, respectively, in the hard and social sciences) fill their amazing book to the brim with a challenging mix of history, science, medicine, anthropology, sociology, and popular culture, then add a dash of humor, a pinch of polemic, and a dollop of healthful skepticism. Caffeine, a “bitter, highly toxic white powder, readily soluble in boiling water,” was first isolated and named in 1819 by a young German physician. But it had been employed as far back as the middle of the 15th century, when the first coffee was brewed in southern Arabia. By the middle of the 16th century, “coffeehouses [had sprung] up in every major city in Islam”; soon, travelers to the Middle East sampled the drink, enjoyed its effects, and took it back to their own countries. The authors then focus on tea, establishing 220 b.c. as “genuinely the earliest reference” to the beverage and speculating that the Chinese may have learned to brew it from people in northern India or southeast Asia. They trace the other principal dietary source of caffeine, chocolate, to the Mesoamerican Olmecs, who flourished from 1500 to 400 b.c. and first used the cacao bean to make a chocolate drink. Chronicling the spread of these substances to Europe, Weinberg and Bealer note that coffee was often touted for its supposed medicinal properties (“comforts the Brain and dries up Crudities in the Stomach,” claimed one 18th-century publication). In the most engaging portion here, a long section dealing with the culture of caffeine, the authors trace its social role. Wisely, they delay until the final chapters slower-going discussions of the chemistry of caffeine and the immense amount of medical research devoted to it.
Well-researched, briskly written, full-bodied, and flavorful. (50 halftones and line drawings)
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)