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From Coffee to Coca

From Coffee to Coca

The brevity of the articles (usually one or two pages) and their highly readable nature make the book well-suited for high school students. The book is especially useful for world history, world studies, and macroeconomics teachers because it takes complex ideas and presents them in a relevant and entertaining way.

One caution, however. As is often the case with articles written for mainstream magazines, the columns don't always go beyond a surface critique; sometimes the authors seem more concerned with cleverness than with hard-hitting analysis.

The book is organized around seven thematically based chapters, such as: "The Violent Birth of Corporations," "Trademarks: What's in a Name?" and "Primitive Accumulation: Brazilwood."

The chapter on "The Economic Culture of Drugs" has been particularly successful in my classroom. I usually begin by reading the chapter's introduction, which explores how and under what social conditions a plant or its pharmacological effects are deemed socially acceptable or unacceptable. It also examines how "drugs" were the first commodities in the modern global trading system.

I then ask students to write about an article they find interesting from the chapter. (The articles examine chocolate, coffee, sugar, tobacco, opium, and coca.) Invariably, most students want to write about the coca article, entitled "Chewing is Good, Snorting Isn't: How Chemistry Turned a Good Thing Bad (Coca)."

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