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5.0 out of 5 stars Hugely interesting and beautifully written
Popular treatments of scientific and botanical subjects have been selling well over the past few years (Secret Life of Plants, Nathaniel's Nutmeg, Longitude, Fermat's Last Theorem, etc.), and this hugely interesting and beautifully written book goes some way to explaining why. Caffeine is the global drug, used in a multitude of forms by just about every society, but...
Published on Nov. 7 2002

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched but somehow boring
This book is really well-researched. All you ever wanted to know about caffeine is in this book. The problem is that the authors stuff the book with so many facts and quotes from other books/treatises that they make it unreadable. This is especially true for the historical part (first part of the book). If you want to know about the history of caffeine, I would not...
Published on Dec 12 2003 by C. Shora


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3.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched but somehow boring, Dec 12 2003
By 
C. Shora (Washington, District of Columbia United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug (Paperback)
This book is really well-researched. All you ever wanted to know about caffeine is in this book. The problem is that the authors stuff the book with so many facts and quotes from other books/treatises that they make it unreadable. This is especially true for the historical part (first part of the book). If you want to know about the history of caffeine, I would not buy this book. The book also has a lot of very interesting statistics and facts, and just for that reason, I will keep it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing, Original, March 7 2003
By 
We hear a lot about the evil of stimulants. Amateur doctors who get their info from infomercials or Aunt Clara have begun to equate beverage/food stimulants with tobacco, alcohol and those absurdly misnamed "recreational" drugs. There is no comparison between being a zoned-out zombie and perking up to a Pepsi or cafe latte. Those who don't see this need a reality check. In fact, I am sipping a Dr. Pepper as I write (and, I might add, without a twinge of guilt.)
Caffiene is a modern development, especially the refining and concentrating of its powers. It emerged from the shadows in the Industrial Society and was indispensable in the conversion from a society of alcholic stupor to one that would revolutionize the world. The origins of both coffee and tea are quite similar - both being recognized for their medicinal purposes. Both had strong religious opposition (Islamic and Catholic) and both developed rituals and sites dedicated to the imbibing of the liquid.
Coffee and a few other naturally occurring plants also contain caffiene. The scientific section was too advanced for 99% of the readers- more like a chemistry treatise - but the history of
this ubiquitous drug was exciting and learned. The story of the rise of coffee houses, their political and social importance and the tale of the origins of afternoon "Tea" were both well done/ The history of soft drinks was an eye-opener as well. The book contains several illustrations and is best enjoyed with a hot cup of Costa Rican Arabica beaned coffee (not pre-ground).
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, Jan. 31 2003
By 
E.T.K.L. (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
First, a mistake by the authors: they write, "There is a case of a child who died from orally ingesting less than 5.5 grams, or the equivalent of about five cups of coffee." (p. 315)
Now, 5.5 grams is equal to 5,500 milligrams. If the average content of a cup of coffee is taken to be about 100 mg (see Appedix A), then the child ingested not five but FIFTY-FIVE cups of coffee (or equivalent dose).
This kind of mistake is often fatal but all too common in medical accidents, usually committed by pharmacists and doctors.
What can I say? Neither author is medically trained - one is a lawyer and the other a writer. Their cautious endorsement of caffeine must be taken with a grain of salt (and not too much of that either).
One complication of the matter is that people who consume much caffeine also tend to smoke a lot and have other unhealthy habits. By contrast, health-conscious people who don't smoke and do have healthful habits (like taking vitamins) drink their coffee only in moderation. The authors have not failed to point this out, but that's no defense for excessive coffee-drinking.
Frederick the Great is mentioned as a campaigner against coffee. What they neglected to say is that Old Fritz was himself a manic drinker of coffee. (I know, because he's one of my heroes.)
What excessive caffeine can do is most dramatically illustrated by a NASA experiment on p. 237. Exposed to four potent drugs - marijuana, benzedrine, choral hydrate, and caffeine - a spider spins a complete chaos on the last one only.
This is an interesting book worth having on your bookshelf. Mine is already stained with black coffee - decaf.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Lovely Book, Jan. 30 2003
By 
Marco Polo (Venice, Italy) - See all my reviews
Considering the amount of caffeine everybody consumes all around the globe, it's amazing how little we know about this drug - and how few popular books are written about it.
We know all we need to know.....from personal experience. Or so we think! Probably most of us are addicts without admitting it. And imagine the advantage you can have over everybody else if you limit your intake of this potent drug.
All the cultural background is interesting. I'd be even more grateful if at least one of the authors were medically trained. But they seem to have done their homework, and I applaud their effort. Treat yourself to a nice cup of steaming hot java (preferably de-caff), and sip slowly while you savor this fun book.
Another good book to go with this one: "For God, Country & Coca-Cola" by Mark Pendergrast - all you want to know about the world's favorite sugar water (caffeinated, of course!)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Hugely interesting and beautifully written, Nov. 7 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug (Paperback)
Popular treatments of scientific and botanical subjects have been selling well over the past few years (Secret Life of Plants, Nathaniel's Nutmeg, Longitude, Fermat's Last Theorem, etc.), and this hugely interesting and beautifully written book goes some way to explaining why. Caffeine is the global drug, used in a multitude of forms by just about every society, but non-specialist consumers really know very little about the substance. The "science and culture" of caffeine - the story of how and why it achieved its prominence in our diet and its place in our lives - makes fascinating reading, and the illustrations are extremely well chosen. This will remain the standard work on the subject for very many years.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A few words about The World of Caffeine, Nov. 3 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug (Paperback)
This book is a very interesting, well written and thoroughly researched work. It is extremely informative and reads in a style that is engaging while still maintaining a scholarly level.
I would recommend the book to all who wish to learn nearly everything there is to know about caffeine.
It is apparently the authors' debut work and, as such it is even more impressive. Bravo!
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1.0 out of 5 stars A negative review, Oct. 12 2002
By A Customer
This book is one-sided in it's approach to the benefits/costs of caffeine use. I would definately agree that it's probably better to drink coffee than to crash your car, or have an industrial accident of some kind. I'd also say that most of the benefits that are discussed in this book are short-term. I believe that the costs are cumulative, and long-term.
The authors take great pains to point out that any negative effects of caffeine are dose-dependent. I'd agree that anyone could use 10mg of caffeine per day without any significant negative effects. Who doesn't increase their dosage over time though?
They talk about how much caffeine one would have to consume in order to have a toxcicity reaction. Caffeine does have negative (as well as positive) effects well below toxic dosages. They also make the patently false claim that the caffeine analogs found in tea, chocolate, guarana etc. have exactly the same neurological effects. These caffeine analogs are chemical cousins, but they aren't chemically identical, and they have different neurological effects. Doctors sometimes prescribe theopyline (tea caffeine) to asthmatics.
Caffeine is not the only biologically active substance in coffee. There is an antioxidant in coffee (that's good). However this antioxidant evaporates after about 20 minutes, so drink your coffee fast. Caffeine itself is not an antioxidant (as the authors falsely claim).
All of the lab studies relating to the effects of caffeine have used pure caffeine (not coffee). There are over 50 differen't alkaloids in coffee (including caffeine). Several of the alkaloids in coffee are known neurotoxins. There is also one alkaloid that has been found to powerfully alter cholesterol levels (although there is more of this chemical in coffee that hasn't been paper-filtered).
Caffeine has been proven to compound the effects of a stressful situation. Studies have shown that the same stessful situation on caffeine will cause a much greater increase in both bloodpressure and heartrate. These effects increase rather than decrease over time. It may be that people become accustomed to higher and higher stress levels. This may be proven biologically to to be the result of a gradual increase in cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and a corresponding lowering of DHEA (youth hormone) levels over time. Caffeine's main action is that it interferes with the normal metabolism of GABA. GABA is the brain's natural sedative. It subsequently affects noradrenaline, insulin, and melatonin levels. If you take the drug Xanax, then you are probably compensating for caffeine consumption.
I'm not going to list all of the references to research. There are plenty of books, and articles that do this. I suggest reading "Caffeine Blues: Wake Up to the Hidden Dangers of America's #1 Drug" by Stephen Cherniske. The major problem that I have with "The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug" is that it's like the religion of caffeine. People (especially caffeine-dependent lab-bound researchers) want to believe that there are no negative effects related to their favorite substance. I also think that the drug companies may make alot of money selling drugs that attempt to compensate for the negative effects of caffeine.
I would like to suggest that anyone with stress-related disorders like anxiety, depression, or insomnia try quitting all forms of caffeine for at least 6 weeks. It takes weeks for neuroendocrine hormones to balance out. It also takes 12 hours for caffeine to be detoxified by the liver. I can almost guarantee that you will feel less stressed-out if you can tough out the hedaches and drowsiness for awhile. You might also try very gradually decreasing your caffeine dosage (to avoid the withdrawl symptoms). Try gradually blending in more decaf coffee with regular (if that's the way you get your caffeine). DHEA supplementation might be useful. I don't personally take DHEA supplements. I use some natural methods to raise my DHEA levels. If you want to learn more about DHEA, then read "The DHEA Breakthrough" by Stephen A. Cherniske. I also suggest checking out PubMed for information on Caffeine, or any other substance.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Highly exhaustive and researched, Jan. 29 2002
I first read about this book in a past issue of Wired and the author of the article included a few tidbits of information that would be found in the book. I, of course, must have missed it somewhere, but nontheless, this is a very well-researched, exhaustive book on the subject of caffeine. Being that it is very healthy in its information, it is very, very boring. This is not a book where I figure a person could actively sit in one place and read and read and read till they have finished with it. I must have had dropping eyelids more than 5 times. I am considering re-selling it, trying to earn back the $23 I wasted, but I might keep it on my bookshelf mostly for future research reasons.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, and highly informative, Nov. 16 2001
By 
Dennis Littrell (SoCal/NorCal/Maui) - See all my reviews
Before the advent of caffeine beverages in Europe, which didn't happen until the seventeenth century, what did people drink? That is just one of the many questions answered in this thoroughly informative book about caffeine. Mostly they drank beer. Indeed for breakfast it was typical to have beer soup sopped up with bread. There were no stimulant beverages available, and people did not generally drink water since safe water was not readily available. Such a world it must have been with most people drinking alcoholic beverages from sun up to sun down! Then came first cacao, and then coffee and tea, and our world changed. It is interesting to realize that part of the value of cocoa, coffee and tea is the fact that they are consumed in water that has been boiled. The health benefits of drinking safe water made habitual by the mildly addictive force of caffeine turned out to be a boon to humankind. When one considers the usually deleterious nature of addiction, this is a delicious irony.
The emphasis here of course is on the two most widely consumed caffeine beverages, tea and coffee. Weinberg and Bealer guide us through the facts and the folklore, the history and the pharmacology of the world's favorite drug. They begin with the origins of coffee and tea in Part I: "Caffeine in History," followed by its arrival and widespread use in Europe in Part II: "Europe Wakes Up to Caffeine." Part III is "The Culture of Caffeine" including knowledge about such things as the tea ceremony in Japan, the famous Oxford Coffee Club and the birth of the Royal Society in England and the rise of the coffee houses. The story of Coca-Cola in America and the advent of what the authors call (p. 195) "The Straight Dope: Vavarin, NoDoz, and Other Caffeine Pills," is detailed. The cultural "duality" between coffee and tea is expressed and a two-columned list presented in which, for example, coffee is associated with the male and tea with the female; coffee with indulgence and tea with temperance; coffee with excess and tea with moderation; Americans versus the English, Balzac versus Proust, etc.
I found the last two parts of the book, Part IV: "The Natural History of Caffeine," and Part V: "Caffeine and Health" the most interesting. The chemistry of caffeine is therein discussed and information is given about how much caffeine is in various beverages (Starbucks decaffeinated coffee, for example, was found to actually have 25 mg of caffeine, while an average cup of regular java contains anywhere from 40 to 180 mg). Maté and guarana, caffeine drinks popular in South America, are compared with coffee and tea, as well as with cacao (the source of chocolate), and the cola nut (which is typically chewed), along with the bark of a tree from which something called yoco tea is made. Even betel, khat, ephedra and coca leaves are brought into the discussion. The mental and physical effects of caffeine are assessed as well as that of other methylzanthines found in caffeine plants, such as theobromine and theophylline. Caffeine's effect on memory, depression, aggression, alertness, etc. are looked into, and the question of whether caffeine is a drug of abuse is addressed.
I must say that I found just about everything I wanted to know about caffeine in this book. It is easily the best book on the subject that I know of. The presentation is readable and entertaining with tables, photos, black and white prints, and cartoons augmenting the text. There's even some poetry. One of the most interesting illustrations shows four spider webs spun by spiders each "under the influence" of a different drug, marijuana, benzedrine, chloral hydrate and caffeine. Guess which web is the most distorted?
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5.0 out of 5 stars Complete, Authoritative, Entertaining, Definitive!, June 7 2001
"The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug" is the best book found on the subject. No other book even comes close to the scope of this important topic covered in such magnificent detail! Nearly 400 pages in length encompassing seventeen highly informative chapters separated into five distinct parts, this jewel of nonfiction work by authors Bennett Alan Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer is sure to mark it's place in history as the best in its class.
Part I, "Caffeine in History" tells everything you could possibly want to know about this powerful, world's most popular drug, from the Arabian Origins to its refined, almost religious use in Europe, blending into Part II. Part III discusses the role of caffeine from a cultural standpoint and works its way into Part IV, "The Natural History of Caffeine." Of particular interest to me is Part V, "Caffeine and Health," specifically Chapter 15, "Caffeine and the Body," Chapter 16, "Thinking Over Caffeine: Cognition, Learning, and Emotional Well-Being" and Chapter 17, "Caffeine Dependence, Intoxication, and Toxicity." The details of how caffeine permeates every cell in the body are clear, straightforward and very comprehendible. This book was written in a classical narrative style, wonderfully free of slanted opinions and unrelated ramblings in an instructional tone. This is one of the most beautifully arranged and printed hardbounds that I have found, so much that after only a few minutes I had to get my own copy!
It is clear to me now that there are far more benefits to caffeine than detriments. It has been proven to increase alertness, improve concentration and even to help with weight loss, and much more. According to the book, it would take almost 100 cups of coffee to reach toxic blood levels! Even on a day where I crave two or three double lattes, I can now rest easier knowing that I'm far below toxic. But even here the authors make it clear that even after two strong cups of coffee, some of the well-known side effects can take hours to wear off: nervousness, talkativeness and anxiety. It even compares and cross-references other elements of caffeine, a member of the methylxanthine family, to other important naturally occurring compounds such as theophylline and theobromine found in cacao and yerb mate. Absolutely fascinating! The book also has me convinced that I'm hopelessly hooked to caffeine--and not just from coffee!
The message: watch your intake of caffeine levels by knowing how it works in your body and where it orginated, and how other peoples of the world regard its use. No other singular work encompasses the knowledge of the world's preferred drug of choice. There is more than enough information to include as well-founded research of your own, based on the rock solid references, informative notes, beautiful black and white photographs and perfectly placed, highly detailed illustrations. The page layout is practically an art in itself, set in an older typeface reminiscent of a proprietary Garamond. Easy on the eyes, printed on natural (off-white) paper, extremely well edited and a pleasure to read! Beautiful section headers and chapter numbers resembling currency make the book visually appealing. Even the cover makes me want a cup--and a chocolate bar! Logical, no-nonsense flow from chapter to chapter. It is a real treat now to come across a book that lives beyond my expectations as an educated reader. After reading this book, you should have a degree in its own class. Top recommendation for all readers over 13. Buy it today, and don't even think about selling it!
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