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It began with pepper and other spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg, some eight hundred years ago. Then came coffee, tea, and chocolate, followed by alcohol and opium--all articles of pleasure people in the Western world craved in order to escape from their humdrum lives and heighten their daily enjoyment. How humanity transformed its history in the course of finding the rare condiments, stimulants, intoxicants, and narcotics that helped to make life more tolerable is the story of this rich and captivating book. Wolfgang Schivelbusch, in his engrossing journey through the centuries, documents with a wealth of startling information (and 125 illustrations) how our drive for the pleasure substances we can eat, drink, or inhale fueled the energies of the Old World with an explosive power that propelled mankind across the oceans and into a new age. The urge to please the palate and stimulate, benumb, or pleasure the senses arose at the dawn of the modern age to dovetail with the needs of the rising merchant class and the capitalism it spawned. How the hunger for spices mobilized the Occident's energies with an intensity matched only by today's greed for oil; how coffee became the drink of the bourgeois age as the beverage which, unlike alcohol, promotes clear thinking and hard work; how tobacco became coffee's ally in fine-tuning the fast-paced nervous sensibilities of the modern era--here is a rich human array, an anecdotal history of ideas and beliefs, of fashions, fads, and rituals that orders a treasury of unknown facts in a new way to give us a fresh perspective on our own past and on our present.
Wolfgang Schivelbusch was born in Berlin in 1941 and is a German scholar, historian, and author. In 2003 he was awarded the Heinrich Mann Prize of the Academy of Arts in Berlin. He currently lives in New York.