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The Coffee Trader: A Novel [Abridged, Audiobook] [Audio CD]

David Liss , Graeme Malcolm
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 4 2003
The Edgar Award–winning novel A Conspiracy of Paper was one of the most acclaimed debuts of 2000. In his richly suspenseful second novel, author David Liss once again travels back in time to a crucial moment in cultural and financial history. His destination: Amsterdam, 1659—a mysterious world of trade populated by schemers and rogues, where deception rules the day.

On the world’s first commodities exchange, fortunes are won and lost in an instant. Miguel Lienzo, a sharp-witted trader in the city’s close-knit community of Portuguese Jews, knows this only too well. Once among the city’s most envied merchants, Miguel has lost everything in a sudden shift in the sugar markets. Now, impoverished and humiliated, living on the charity of his petty younger brother, Miguel must find a way to restore his wealth and reputation.

Miguel enters into a partnership with a seduc-tive Dutchwoman who offers him one last chance at success—a daring plot to corner the market of an astonishing new commodity called “coffee.” To succeed, Miguel must risk everything he values and test the limits of his commercial guile, facing not only the chaos of the markets and the greed of his competitors, but also a powerful enemy who will stop at nothing to see him ruined. Miguel will learn that among Amsterdam’s ruthless businessmen, betrayal lurks everywhere, and even friends hide secret agendas.

With humor, imagination, and mystery, David Liss depicts a world of subterfuge, danger, and repressed longing, where religious and cultural traditions clash with the demands of a new and exciting way of doing business. Readers of historical suspense and lovers of coffee (even decaf) will be up all night with this beguiling novel.


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From Publishers Weekly

Liss's first novel, A Conspiracy of Paper, was sketched on the wide canvas of 18th-century London's multilayered society. This one, in contrast, is set in the confined world of 17th-century Amsterdam's immigrant Jewish community. Liss makes up the difference in scale with ease, establishing suspense early on. Miguel Lienzo escaped the Inquisition in Portugal and lives by his wits trading commodities. He honed his skills in deception during years of hiding his Jewish identity in Portugal, so he finds it easy to engage in the evasions and bluffs necessary for a trader on Amsterdam's stock exchange. While he wants to retain his standing in the Jewish community, he finds it increasingly difficult to abide by the draconian dictates of the Ma'amad, the ruling council. Which is all the more reason not to acknowledge his longing for his brother's wife, with whom he now lives, having lost all his money in the sugar trade. Miguel is delighted when a sexy Dutch widow enlists him as partner in a secret scheme to make a killing on "coffee fruit," an exotic bean little known to Europeans in 1659. But she may not be as altruistic as she seems. Soon Miguel is caught in a web of intricate deals, while simultaneously fending off a madman desperate for money, and an enemy who uses the Ma'amad to make Miguel an outcast. Each player in this complex thriller has a hidden agenda, and the twists and turns accelerate as motives gradually become clear. There's a central question, too: When men manipulate money for a living, are they then inevitably tempted to manipulate truth and morality?
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

His A Conspiracy of Paper having won the 2000 Edgar Award for Best First Novel, Liss returns with another tale of historical intrigue. In 1600s Amsterdam, Portuguese Jew Miguel Lienzo ignores the strictures of his community and joins forces with a Dutchwoman to capture the coffee market.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great tale, the best of Liss' novels July 11 2004
Format:Paperback
I loved this book. If you're looking for a well-researched novel that you can completely become engrossed in, this is it.
To me, I base all writers on Ken Follett, the British author who first introduced me to the absolute joy of getting lost in a novel. This book measures up very well to Follett's best.
You are transported to 17th Century Europe (or thereabouts, it's been a while since I've read it), and Liss' writing style is very descriptive. It's really great fun to follow the adventures of the dashing Miguel Lienzo.
The fact that I remember the leading man's name 16 months after reading the book speaks volumes. I wholeheartedly recommend this novel to anyone who likes a great novel.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Caf-fiendish deception June 6 2004
Format:Paperback
This is a fascinating story set in the middle of the 17th century about a number of Portuguese-Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition. On the enlightened shores of Amsterdam, they, along with others, make their living in commodities trading, and how remarkably little this activity has since changed over four centuries.
As they do now, traders gamble over the rise and fall of prices by buying and selling "puts" (an option giving one the right to sell at a later date for an artificially-high price) and "calls", (an option giving one the right to buy at a later date for an artificially-low price). Having once briefly dabbled in commodities trading, I am familiar with these strategies but never before imagined that they were anything other than 20th-century innovations.
Yet at one stage, one trader cynically advises another, "Go buy whale oil - not futures, but the thing itself. You may remember that the rest of the world still transacts business in that quaint manner."
The story specifically centers around the efforts of one trader in particular, Miguel Lienzo, who is introduced to a wondrous new fruit called "coffee" that when ground and brewed into drink imparts astonishing powers of reason and concentration and also has the power to preserve health, help digestion, and cure consumption and other maladies of the lung, as well as fluxes, jaundice and inflammation. One character in the novel naively crunches this "fruit" between her teeth before learning of its greater appeal as a brew.
Anticipating a tremendous demand for this new commodity, Miguel arrives at a plan to use his trading acumen to acquire a monopoly on it, all the while juggling business and personal affairs that threaten to undo him before his plan comes to fruition.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Great history, and novel not too bad June 6 2004
Format:Hardcover
I very much enjoyed the historical part of this book. The picture of historical Amsterdam and the information about early commodities trading were fascinating. Even the characters were interesting. What kept the book from being more satisfying was that all of the characters were scammers -- not my favorite sort of person -- and that it was difficult to care what happened to any of them. First, one person would appear to be winning, and then another would trick him, and all along, it made no difference to me whether this one or that one ended up ascendant. I couldn't even say that one person was more wicked or more pathetic or more interesting than another.
Liss is a good writer who keeps the prose moving right along. The basis of the story is very interesting to me. Maybe the idea that Liss wanted to convey was that there are no honest or big-hearted businessmen. But if so, that is an unsatisfying picture of the world.
I give the novel three stars because the historical information was good enough to overcome my disappointment with the novel.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good Read, but Does Not Resonate May 24 2004
Format:Paperback
I really enjoyed reading "The Coffee Trader" as a nice little story of duplicity and intrigue in the business capital of 17th century Europe -- Amsterdam. But the story is populated by so many con artists, dissemblers, thieves, and out-right liars that I could not shake the notion that I was going to have the rug jerked out from under me at the end, and this kept me from becoming too invested in the evident storyline (knowing that it was going to change shortly).
"Coffee Trader" has several strong points. Liss provides a clear, if not exactly exciting, picture of 17th century Amsterdam, and he really sinks his teeth into describing the complex life of the protagonist, Miguel Lienzo, as a Jew who has learned to lie by hiding his religion from the Inquisition and must also walk the delicate line of doing business with the Dutch (a must in Amsterdam) yet remaining within the bounds of his Jewish faith -- as laid down by the local ruling council, the Ma'amad. While not up to the standards of other historical fiction (see Colleen McCullough's "Masters of Rome" series), Liss does a very good job painting a picture of daily life in Amsterdam -- right down to the rampant odor of beer and herring.
Lienzo, a once successful trader, has lost his fortune as the sugar market collapsed. One step ahead of bankruptcy, he is presented with an opportunity -- to restore his fortune by cornering the market on a strange new plant, coffee. Liss has some fun with his characters' first encounters with coffee, as he knows his readers are likely well-acquainted with its powers.
But soon intrigue is piling on intrigue.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars No Coffee Good story
I don't drink coffee and wasn't sure I was going to like a book about coffee, especially since I don't read a lot of fiction. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Tim
5.0 out of 5 stars Coffee Trader - David Liss
I bought this copy for my Dad as I had already read a copy of it from my local library. I loved the book - I love the historical information and the setting is described so... Read more
Published on Aug. 15 2010 by G Saxe
3.0 out of 5 stars Trouble brews as coffee makes its entrance...
Meet Miguel Lienzo, a Portuguese Jew charmed by a wealthy and mysterious Dutch widow, Geertruid, who offers him a business partnership in the coffee trade. Read more
Published on Sept. 6 2009 by I LOVE BOOKS
4.0 out of 5 stars 17th Century Amsterdam History
When I first started listening to The Coffee Trader, I didn't think I was going to like it. Perhaps it's just me, but Graeme Malcolm's reading grated on my nerves. Read more
Published on July 2 2007 by Teddy
4.0 out of 5 stars Caffeinated historical fiction
I picked up this novel purely by chance as I'd been discussing the coffee trade elsewhere.

What an intriguing novel: set in Amsterdam in 1659 and based on commodities... Read more
Published on April 25 2007 by Jennifer Cameron-Smith
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book, though not as good as his first one
Fans of Conspiracy of Paper, the first book by David Liss, will find much the same intrigue and imagination in this, his second book. Read more
Published on May 13 2004 by Matthew Krichman
4.0 out of 5 stars great read for us coffee junkies
liss does a masterful job of transporting the reader to a time and place that are so distant (yet not so...) from our modern world. Read more
Published on May 13 2004 by David Levine
4.0 out of 5 stars A page-turner
I have to be honest, I dont read for leisure as much as I would like to. As a college student, if I can find time for fiction, I should be using that time to read textbooks. Read more
Published on May 9 2004 by Matt Wildrick
4.0 out of 5 stars Good mix of history and fiction
I can't comment on the accuracy of the historic data about either the city of Amsterdam or the stock market, but as one who has had some personal experience, if very limited, with... Read more
Published on April 27 2004 by David Harris
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