Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Non-Fiction Review: For God, Country and Coca-Cola

Invented just over a hundred years ago in America as a cocaine-laced patent medicine, Coca-Cola (now minus the cocaine) has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its inventor. But in this incredible story of how a soft drink came to be regarded as 'the sublimated essence of all that America stands for,' For God, Country and Coca-Cola tarnishes that gilded image, revealing back-room political deals, cosy arrangements with the US government and the World Bank, black market trades of Coke for money and sex, and brutal treatment of competitors, migrant workers and Third World Coca-Cola labourers - and finally, how the universal flood of Coke has irrevocably changed world culture. 


For God, Country and Coca-Cola 

Pendergrast, Mark. (1993). [Genre: History] 

Coke is perhaps the multinational of multinational companies. Its trademarks are recognised the world over and directly/indirectly it employees several million people around the world. It was always going to make for a fascinating study. For God, Country and Coca-Cola has been on my to-read list since a history lecturer recommended it about 4 years ago. I'm so glad I finally got to it! 

It's hard to explain just how fascinating For God, Country and Coca-Cola is. One has to applaud Pendergrast, for his treatment of The Coca-Cola Company is decidedly unbiased. The good and the bad are treated equally, with little judgement made as to the companies overall ethics or morals. The level of research is probably unprecedented in terms of an independent 'popular non-fiction' on the history of a listed company - my edition contains over 200 pages of notes and bibliography. Thorough research and a lack of bias combine to form a pretty compelling picture of a company that has had many ups and downs, but perhaps more than any other entity in history, has changed how we see ourselves. 

The text is divided into parts, each covering approximately 25 years of company history. Quickly we come to see just how much Coca-Cola is responsible for. The part it played in the formation of trademark law, advertising, the franchise system, global marketing and so on is nothing short of phenomenal. Pendergrast has a talent for making the figures involved jump off the page - he spends time on the character of each important player, so the reader feels that they are characters in an ongoing story rather than simply an endless parade of CEO's. Robert Woodruff (long time company president) and Max Kite (who headed up Coca-Cola in Germany during the Nazi period).

Pendergrast's other talent is weaving relatively dry corporate history with 'fun' anecdotes - of which coke has many. I learnt A LOT - from Fanta's dubious beginning in Nazi Germany to cocaine's introduction to the Western world as a cure for morphine addication. 

Overall? 5/5 stars. Coke is a fascinating company and Pendergrast does it justice. Unfortunately my copy was the first edition, published in 1993, so the 'story' ended in 1992. Fortunately the third revised edition was released just a few months ago. I feel like I need to track it down ASAP so I continue this story.

For God, Country and Coca-Cola is my 11th finish for 2013's TBR Challenge hosted over at Roof Beam Reader! See my whole list here

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