The Sparkling Story of Coca-Cola will delight all those who would like to know the origins of the world's favorite soft drink and see many delightful early examples of advertising and promotional materials. One of my favorite museums with a commercial focus is the Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta. I was prepared to be disappointed with this book, assuming that it would have less material that I found at the museum. Instead, I found The Sparking Story of Coca-Cola to be much more detailed, easier to follow and with higher quality graphics than in the museum.
The people who will be disappointed in this book are those who want to follow Coca-Cola's progress in detail from 1935 on. The book is a little sketchy for the last 68 years, but wonderfully detailed before that.
The historical side of the book captures the development of carbonated soft drinks in drug stores from medicinal mineral waters and then connects how the formula for Coca-Cola emerged. Anyone who has wanted to understand about the cocaine and caffeine in the original formula will probably have their thirst for knowledge slaked. There also plenty of educated guesses about what the rest of the ingredients are now.
The book goes on to explain the transition into distributing the syrup around the country, bottling and supermarket distribution. I found all of these explanations to be thorough, without being dense, and interesting without trying to be cute.
The illustrations are what really made the book for me. In Coca-Cola's earliest days, the company was a pioneer in mass advertising. Although a fountain glass of Coca-Cola only cost five cents, that was a lot of money when the product first came out. With a sure instinct, the advertising portrayed attractive, healthy upper class young women with the product. These images appeared on trays, calendars and hand-outs. The quality of the reproductions is very fine. You can then see how these illustrations gravitated towards women celebrities and eventually towards ordinary looking young women. During times of trouble, boys were included.
I also enjoyed the discussions of how Coca-Cola handled the challenges of sugar shortages and the Depression while maintaining its quality image and integrity.
While many books about a product like Coca-Cola would ignore all competitors, this one has some material on the early soft drink makers like Hires for root beer and Schweppes. There's also some material on the challenge of Pepsi-Cola beginning in the 1930s. These references enriched the book for me.
Those who are looking for an explanation of the Roberto Goizueta era at Coca-Cola will find little information, except for a discussion of the introduction of the failed new Coke. Bottling development and international expansion similarly lack much information beyond the initiation of both activities.
So, as you can see, this is more than a coffee table book . . . and less than a complete history. It's just right for those who want to know more about one of their favorite beverages and enjoy the nostalgia of seeing interesting memorabilia from an earlier time.
After you finish this book, think about other symbols that you relate to that once had a slightly "fast" image. Is that same image involved now? Is the change good or bad from your perspective?
When you are in Atlanta, all those who enjoyed this book will probably also enjoy the museum there . . . especially tasting the flavors of Coca-Cola products from around the world.