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by Mark Pendergrast

Pub Date: May 4th, 1993
ISBN: 0-684-19347-7
Publisher: Scribner

 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)