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
Well-researched, briskly written, full-bodied, and flavorful. (50 halftones and line drawings)