Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Review: The True History of Chocolate

Some time back, your Chocolate Priestess had a birthday and received a few books.  Something you may not know about me is that I've been reviewing books now for different publications and organizations for many years now. When I review a book on here for all of you, Sisters and Brothers, I try to use the same standards as I would for any other publication or site I review on.  However here I'll also provide links to the books I'm looking at.

Today I want to talk about the Coe book The True History of Chocolate second edition. Please note that the link below is the the latest edition of the book that I had to update to with changes to the Amazon Affiliate program, by clicking on it, you'll also be helping to support this blog. 

This book from Thames & Hudson presents itself as two books in one. First a scholarly look into the history and development of chocolate from the first human use of cacao to the 1990s.  However this book is also a work of love.  You see, the bulk of the research for this book was done by Sophie D. Coe who passed away before finished that basic work.  Her husband, Micahel D. Coe, tried to finish her research and put the book together.

While Mr. Coe's heart was in the right place and I'm sure we can understand his desire to complete his wife's work, one of the most common complaints about the book is that the scholarship and the way the book is written seems lacking in several areas.  I do have a PhD in history, ancient Mediterranean history but that means I can judge research in other fields to some degree feeling confident I understand the basics of evidence, interpretation and argument.  This lack of analysis and cautious interpretation of evidence occurred most often in the first three chapters because Coe is looking at pre-written societies and then the reports of conquerors whose words should always be read cautiously.

At certain points in the book, recipes, diary entries, advertizements and images are reproduced for us, the reader.  If the book did nothing else, collecting such things together would be worthwhile.  There are well over 250 drawings and images in the book, several of them color but most are in black and white.  Diagrams make the process of creating chocolate more understandable.  It was simply fun to see how chocolate has been advertized, praised and demonized over the years.  But such reproductions is not a history, merely a collection of information.

I agree there places where the text seems awkward and the conclusions seem based on very limited evidence but over all, I think The True History of Chocolate (Second Edition) is a good book for someone who wants to learn more about the history of cacao and how chocolate was created and developed over the centuries.   The book is less that twenty dollars and should entertain and inform you for many hours.  You can always follow up on the bibliography if you want further information.


Emilie said...

As a food historian, I agree with you. This book just doesn't seem to have been written by a historian. It reports the sources, rather than analyzing them. I had hoped the second edition might have better citations, but it doesn't.

TheChocolatePriestess said...

Thank you, Emilie. I should have known you would have all ready read this book. If you have any suggestions for books about chocolate, I'd love to hear them and continue my own education.

Myka Iyer said...

All I know is that chocolate started with Mayan civilization!

TheChocolatePriestess said...

Thanks for reading and commenting, Myka. Use of cacao probably started long before the Mayans but they are often cited.

Cacao-Me said...

the Coes' book is often sited in other historical books on cacao. i have a copy of the book but have not read it yet. the review has motivated me to crack it open. (and fyi, in posting this comment, there is a pop-up menu box and thus far, it seems like it is working.)

TheChocolatePriestess said...

I'm glad the pop-up is working for comments. I read this a while back then had a discussion with a chocolate researcher about it and that finally got me to write this short review.

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