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November 21, 2005


Thom H.

I'm not seeing many comments on these blog entries but this one attracted my attention. The idea that the transition from wine and beer to coffee fueled a radical change in Europe is fascinating. It seems very logical, so now I'm wondering if there is evidence or research to support it?

Joseph Steig

Type "coffee" and "enlightenment" into Amazon and you'll find a few books that discuss the subject of coffee fueling the Enlightenment.

Jim Cambias

Professional historians seem to be more comfortable with things like technological change, the Protestant Reformation, and climate changes (the period roughly from Elizabeth I through Napoleon was unusually chilly). Perhaps it's because coffee and tea seem so mundane. It's like attributing major social changes to Raisin Bran or prune juice.

Raymond Sokolov's _Why We Eat What We Eat_ is a good study of the effect of the Age of Exploration on dietary habits. Braudel's _The Structure of Everyday Life_ touches on it, though mostly as a matter of economics -- especially how much of people's income went for food. (Short answer: all of it.)

I have not yet read the book on coffee that Joseph's recommending, but it certainly sounds like my cup of tea.


I'm not a religious woman, but I and my precaffeine alterego find your ideas intriguing and would like to receive your newsletter.

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  • Diane A. Kelly
    Diane Kelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she studies the neural wiring and mechanical engineering of reproductive systems.
  • James L. Cambias
    Jim Cambias writes science fiction and designs games in the lonely wilderness of Western Massachusetts.