THE REAL THING by Constance L. Hays


Truth and Power at the Coca-Cola Company
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How Coca-Cola won the world with a century of hard work, then almost lost everything in a few years.

New York Times reporter Hays, who covered the company for five years, ably makes the point that there’s no comparison for the emotional connection that people in America and around the world have with a Coke. Aiming in her booklength debut for a social history of the beverage and those who built a corporation around it, Hays initially seems to be taking a rather haphazard approach, jumping from the 1990s, when the Coca-Cola Company was at the pinnacle of its power, back to the late-19th century, when Coke was just another of the syrups that could be mixed at a soda fountain counter. Early on, the author hits home two key points: (1) there was always conflict between the Coca-Cola Company, which simply sold the concentrate, and the bottlers, who actually made and sold the drink, and (2) company executives were by and large an obsessed bunch. The earlier point is less ably handled; Hays seems to be setting up a moment of confrontation between the bottlers and Coke headquarters, but it never quite materializes. She does better at establishing the personalities of the main corporate players from the 1970s through the ’90s, especially Dan Keough, a fierce but paternalistic figure nicknamed “The Irish Wind” for his temper, and Roberto Goizueta, an aristocratic Cuban émigré so beloved by employees that tears were copiously shed upon his unexpected death in 1997. She also recounts with a proper sense of tragedy the sad blunders of the last few years that have practically unmade the company—the discrimination lawsuit, the bottling plant scares in Europe, and the layoffs that hit Atlanta like a hurricane—showing a once-unbeatable monolith knocked down to size. Can it be that Coke is now just another soft-drink manufacturer?

Gripping material, dramatically told.

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 2004
ISBN: 0-375-50562-8
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2003


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