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

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THE WORLD OF CAFFEINE

THE SCIENCE AND CULTURE OF THE WORLD’S MOST POPULAR DRUG

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)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-415-92722-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Routledge

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2000

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

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").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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