TASTES OF PARADISE by Wolfgang Schivelbusch

TASTES OF PARADISE

A Social History of Spices, Stimulants and Intoxicants

KIRKUS REVIEW

 First published in Germany in 1980, this elegantly trim and readable inquiry is the final volume (after The Railway Journey and Disenchanted Night--neither reviewed) of social-historian Schivelbusch's musings on the origin of modern industrial consciousness. Here, Schivelbusch explores the social meanings of the substances denoted by the German word ``Genussmittel,'' a term applied to material consumed for pleasure: spices, alcohol, coffee, tea, opium, and tobacco. In medieval Europe, he reports, the upper classes spiced their foods and mixed their spices to an extent we would find bizarre--not just to preserve foods and mask spoilage but to form a prestigious link to the paradise envisioned in the fabled East. The northern European masses, meanwhile, practically lived on beer; only later would hard liquor plague the by-then miserably industrialized working-class. Then came coffee, tea, and tobacco, whose very different effects as mental stimulants suited the emerging Protestant bourgeoisie classes--while chocolate took on variously southern, Catholic, aristocratic, and erotic associations. Within this general outline, Schivelbusch traces and illuminates a complex of shifting attitudes and practices, and their permutations and implications, with grace and insight and a clean, reasonable delivery free of the difficulty and far-fetched ingenuity that mark many such discourses. A true pleasure. (Illustrations--125 b&w--not seen.)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-394-57984-4
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1992