on March 7, 2003
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).
on January 31, 2003
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.
on November 16, 2001
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?
on 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!
on March 10, 2001
What we need is a drug that can help people engage each other socially, that can provide mental and physical stimulation and increase creative energy, that is pleasant to ingest, that is cheap enough for almost anyone to use, that does not encourage antisocial behavior or ruin careers or families, and that will never harm the prudent user. Proof that we need such a drug is that ninety percent of the world's population already uses it. The drug is caffeine, and every aspect imaginable of it is covered in _The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug_ (Routledge) by Bennett Alan Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer. If you are at all interested in knowing more about the drug you almost surely use on a daily basis, here's a wealth of information for you.
For instance, why is it that so many plants make caffeine? There's coffee, of course, and tea, and cocoa. Then there's cola nut, maté, and guarana, and yoco, and others you have probably never heard of and which have no commercial value. Caffeine within a plant possesses capacity to kill harmful fungi and bacteria. It can kill weeds around the plant, and bother insects. Pure caffeine is so dangerous to humans that labs which make it have to have ventilation and mask and glove their workers. It is possible to kill yourself with caffeine, but it isn't easy. Drinking a hundred espressos quickly might do it, but getting all that liquid down might present a little difficulty. This dangerous a drug ought to cause some real problems, but other than sleep disturbance, it is really quite seldom that anyone has a difficulty with caffeine. In truth, there have been countless studies of what caffeine does to the body, and virtually no ill effects can be traced to it. We may have made a terrible choice in our other legal mind altering drugs, tobacco and alcohol, but we picked a pretty safe one in caffeine.
Caffeine must do us plenty of good if it is so prevalent, and studies show that it is in many ways a "smart pill" that can help in intellectual effort. This seems to be at least partially independent of its capacity to simply increase alertness. Rather startlingly, it has been shown to make the branches of nerve cells in the brain longer and more numerous, so that there is more potential for the neurons to interconnect. Caffeine is thus the only known substance that augments brain function by changing the brain's physical structure. It may be that governments don't like the idea of caffeine-fired people thinking political thoughts; many governments have made coffeehouses illegal.
History, chemistry, physiology, and economics are tied together in this big, well-illustrated tribute to the world's only unregulated, unlicensed, addictive drug that is available everywhere. Good reading for all addicts.
on January 13, 2001
This book rocks! If you drink coffee, tea or cola you need to get
this book. I'm not sure which is more fascinating-- the hundreds of
surprising medical facts about caffeine's effects on the mind and
body, or the astonishing part caffeine has played in culture, art,
religion, society, politics, science and literature.
Caffeine is the
driving force behind the explosion in cafe culture, the drug of the
computer world and the Internet, and necessary part of just about
everybody's daily life. And the authors really know to tell a story
and there are hundreds of great stories from all over the world and
Amazing health facts include that caffeine
actually improves your short term memory and helps you perform certain
mental tasks more quickly and with fewer mistakes. Even more
incredible, that caffeine actually grows new brain cells. The book
also raises some serious warnings about caffeine use in pregnancy, a
risk that has been pretty much overlooked by the FDA.
I would say
that this book gives a unique perspective on understanding history and
modern society as well as offering a wealth of practical information
about how to get the most out of the drug almost all of us are
It also has dozens of illustrations and charts and
wouldn't be a bad gift for the caffeine addict in your life.
on January 30, 2003
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!)
on May 6, 2001
This is great reading! Caffeine is so ubiquitous within society that most of us have never really thought about how or why we use it. In this very comprehensive book, the authors detail the history of coffee, tea, and chocolate. This includes their discovery, cultivation, introduction into various societies around the world, impact on society, opposition efforts and medical implications. The book is written in a very evenhanded tone without a noticeably pro-caffeine or anti-caffeine agenda. It is full of absolutely fascinating historical tidbits. Who knew that coffee replaced beer as the morning beverage in the United States, or that the U.S. Government once brought suit against Coca Cola arguing that the caffeine in the soft drink caused bad behavior in adolescent boys? This book may not motivate you to forgo that morning cup of coffee, but you certainly will stare at it with a bit more insight.
on January 21, 2001
As a physician I found the information in The World of Caffeine both comprehensive and enlightening. I discovered many facts that I will be passing along to my patients who may not realize how much caffeine they are taking in and all the ways in which it may be affecting them. Caffeine has many potential benefits for the mind and body and a few dangers of which people should be aware. Especially sobering are the discussions of possible deleterious effects on children and a serious warning about the unknown dangers of fetal exposure. Incredibly, this is the first serious book ever written about a drug that is used almost universally. If you are going to use a drug, you should know as much about it as possible. I strongly recommend this book to everyone who uses caffeine-- in coffee, tea, colas, or pills-- and that includes almost everyone.
on January 19, 2001
Who knew that caffeine had such a fascinating story?
I received a copy of the book as a Christmas present from a family member who knows of my love of the cappuccino, and I must say I was suprised by what Weinberg and Bealer have discovered about the drug. The scientific and medical material is interesting and useful (to pretty much everybody, as apparently most of the world ingests caffeine daily in one form or another), but it was the cultural and social history that I found really engaging. A tiny example: Did you know that Bach wrote a "Coffee Cantata"? Neither did I, and I'm not sure I'll ever have a use for this snippet, but it's good just to know it.
Anyway, I really enjoyed the book and can't imagine a better researched or more interesting treatment of "the world's most popular drug."