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TASTES OF PARADISE by Wolfgang Schivelbusch


A Social History of Spices, Stimulants and Intoxicants

by Wolfgang Schivelbusch

Pub Date: July 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-394-57984-4
Publisher: Pantheon

 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.)