Coffeeland
Augustine Sedgewick

Book cover image

Narrated By: Jason Culp

Duration: 14 hours and 56 minutes

What to expect

Brought to you by Penguin.

Coffee is one of the most valuable commodities in the history of the global economy and the world's most popular drug. The very word 'coffee' is one of the most widespread on the planet. Augustine Sedgewick's brilliant new history tells the hidden and surprising story of how this came to be, tracing coffee's 400-year transformation into an everyday necessity.

The story is one that few coffee drinkers know. Coffeeland centres on the volcanic highlands of El Salvador, where James Hill, born in the slums of nineteenth-century Manchester, founded one of the world's great coffee dynasties. Adapting the innovations of the industrial revolution to plantation agriculture, Hill helped to turn El Salvador into perhaps the most intensive monoculture in modern history, a place of extraordinary productivity, inequality and violence.

The book follows coffee from the Hill family plantations into the United States, through the San Francisco roasting plants into supermarkets, kitchens and work places, and finally into today's omnipresent cafés. Sedgewick reveals the unexpected consequences of the rise of coffee, which reshaped large areas of the tropics, transformed understandings of energy, and ultimately made us dependent on a drug served in a cup.

© Augustine Sedgewick 2020 (P) Penguin Audio 2020

Genre

History of the Americas, Tea & coffee, Cultural studies: food & society, Agriculture, agribusiness & food production industries, General & world history

Listen to a sample

Informed and entertaining ... Coffeeland is thoroughly researched and Sedgewick is a stylish writer.

i newspaper

Capitalism has remade the global countryside in radical ways. Coffeeland brilliantly chronicles this most consequential revolution by telling the global history of one family. After reading Augustine Sedgewick's fast-paced book you will never be able to think about your morning coffee in quite the same way.

Sven Beckert, author of EMPIRE OF COTTON

Meticulously researched, vivid in its scene-setting, fine-toothed in its sociopolitical analysis . . . Coffeeland lays bare the history and reality behind that cup of joe you're drinking.

Boston Globe

Impressive ... People and food as much as coffee itself are the focus of Sedgewick's concern and the nexus of some of the most surprising connections in Coffeeland ... A powerful indictment of labour relations in El Salvador and capitalism in general.

Times Literary Supplement

Coffeeland will set a new standard ... an innovative study of work, of the work involved to produce a drink needed by workers to keep working. Sedgewick treats coffee not so much as a material commodity but rather more like intangible energy ... provocative and convincing.

Greg Grandin, author of THE END OF THE MYTH

Wonderful, energising ... Coffeeland is a data-rich piece of original research that shows in compelling detail how coffee capitalism has delivered both profit and pain, comfort and terror to different people at different times over the past 200 years ... Sedgwick's great achievement is to clothe macroeconomics in warm, breathing flesh.

The Guardian

Thoroughly engrossing ... his literary gifts and prodigious research make for a deeply satisfying reading experience studded with narrative surprise. Sedgewick has a knack for the sparkling digression and arresting jump cut, hopping back and forth between El Salvador and the wider world.

The Atlantic

Epic, illuminating ... Coffeeland functions not just as the story of one country's relationship to coffee, but as a pocket history of globalisation itself ... It is a story very worth telling - and one that reaches out far beyond so-called "Coffeeland" itself.

Daily Telegraph

[A] beautifully written, engaging and sprawling portrait of how coffee made modern El Salvador, while it also helped to remake consumer habits worldwide.

New York Times

An erudite and engrossing socioeconomic history ... With a forensic grasp of detail, Sedgewick charts the rise of mass-marketing and modern retail strategies through the story of the humble coffee bean ... Yet Coffeeland's poignant message runs wider still. Ultimately, the story of coffee, today's 'unrivaled work drug', is also the story of globalisation.

Literary Review

Sedgewick's gripping book exposes the dark heart of what goes into making a ubiquitous commodity, cherished every morning, enshrined in the workplace and appreciated after a meal. It provides a devastating answer to the question: 'What does it mean to be connected to faraway people and places through everyday things?'

The Spectator

It's a rich and complex story and the book is full of glances at the history of the times ... This is a staggeringly well-researched piece of work.

Daily Mail

How did a cup of coffee become the everyday addiction of millions? In this impressively wide-ranging, personality-filled history, Augustine Sedgewick untangles the routes that carried coffee from the slopes of El Salvador's volcanoes ... To enter Coffeeland is to visit a realm of ruthless entrepreneurs, hard-working laborers, laboratory chemists, and guerrilla fighters.

Maya Jasanoff, author of THE DAWN WATCH

Many fascinating details... Mr Sedgewick's book is a parable of how a commodity can link producers, consumers, markets and politics in unexpected ways. Like the drink it describes, it is an eye-opening, stimulating brew.

The Economist

Extremely wide-ranging and well researched, Sedgewick's story reaches out into American political history ... The originality and ambition of Sedgewick's work is that he insistently sees the dynamic between producer and consumer-Central American peasant and North American proletarian-not merely as one of exploited and exploiter but as a manufactured co-dependence between two groups both exploited by capitalism.

New Yorker

Both a curio-shop of forgotten snippets of history and quirky facts - who knew mocha was so called because it was shipped out of a Yemeni port of the same name? - as well as a theory of the modern world ... there is much here to entertain, educate and - dare one say it of a book about coffee - stimulate.