THE EMPIRE OF TEA: The Remarkable History of the Plant That Took Over the World

Alan MacFarlane, Author, Iris MacFarlane, Author . Overlook $22.95 (308p) ISBN 978-1-58567-493-0

Iris MacFarlane, a tea planter's wife, lived on a tea estate in Assam, India, for 20 years, and in the first chapter of this informative story of tea, she gives a moving account of her futile attempts to better the lives of the Assamese laborers, whom the British looked down upon as "irremediably inferior" to themselves. Then she and her son Alan, who was born on the estate and is now a professor of social anthropology, delve into the history of the leaf that over thousands of years became "the world's favorite drink," emphasizing the links between tea and political, cultural, social and economic events in China, Japan, India and England, where the British obsession with that "nice cup of tea" fueled the rapid growth of the British Empire. They also expound on the health benefits of tea, listing its many medicinal properties and contending that when tea was first introduced into China, Japan and England, it led to a decline in mortality rates because boiling the water to make it kills harmful bacteria. The story comes full circle in the final chapters, which concentrate on the hardships of the "coolies" who labored to harvest and process tea under the control of their rapacious British overlords. Although the book is more scholarly and less provocative than Roy Moxham's recent indictment of the British tea industry, Tea: A History of Addiction, Exploitation, and Empire (Forecasts, Aug. 25), it presents an equally fascinating picture of tea's impact on the lives of millions of people around the world. Illus. not seen by PW . (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 12/15/2003
Release date: 04/01/2004
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