Cover Image: A Dark History of Chocolate

A Dark History of Chocolate

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Member Reviews

The topic is fascinating and I picked it up in order to learn more about the (dark) history of chocolate, as a massive chocolate-lover myself. It's a very well-written and well-researched book that definitely made me reflect upon the origins of chocolate throughout history. It's a shock to learn the close ties chocolate has with unpleasant events throughout world history. I did find the book a little bit hard to get into initially but picked up steam later on. Enjoyed the recipes throughout.
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A Dark History of CHocolate by Emma Kay is a non-fiction book about the darker chapters in the development and delivery of chocolate. 
Unfortunately, I found this book to be extremely dry and boring. 
There iIn my opinion to appeal to anything except a niche academic market, this book would need a major re-write. 
As a chocolate lover, I had such hopes....

Thank you to NetGalley for a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest opinions
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When I think of chocolate I think of "The food of the God" but i didn't know the darker side of its story.
It's a well written and well researched book that kept me reading and made me reflect and learn something new.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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I had a hard time getting into this book - I think I had hoped that the writing would bring in more storytelling than straightforward narration, and it read a bit like a textbook. The long block quotes also detracted from my reading, and it made it hard to get invested in the story. I think the topic of this book is fascinating, but the writing really didn't pull me in.
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Absolutely captivating.  That’s the best way for me to sum up this astonishing insight into the history of chocolate.  I’ve read a couple of books about the people largely associated with chocolate; the Cadbury’s, Fry’s and the Quakers, but Emma Kay’s work delves into a colourful and often violent past associated with the bean.

I find the scope of the work extraordinary and her writing is engaging.  In  parts it reads very much like an adventure story and it flits from one theme to another, in a breath, but remains ordered and engaging.  There are so many chocolate links that came as a revelation; death row prisoners, love potions, murder, abortion, piracy…the list is endless.  There is a very dark side, of course, but it’s a topic covered with honesty and compassion.  The research appears exhaustive and most impressive is the lengthy bibliography fir anyone wanting to read more.

A genuinely fascinating slice of social history from a completely unique angle.  Well written and I really enjoyed it. 

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy via Netgalley.
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It's hard to imagine how a sweet, delicious, and innocent-looking food item like chocolate would be connected to the dark side of history, but as Emma Kay demonstrates in her book, chocolate has surprisingly close ties to unpleasant events throughout the world from the very first time it was brought out of its enclosed usage in then newly-conquered Mexico and thrown into the global stage.

Given that cacao has a history spanning at least four millennia, that we know, it's an ambitious project to write a history book about it, one that'd probably end up being a ponderous and unwieldy academic tome. But A Dark History of Chocolate doesn't aim to tell the full history but rather the dark aspect of said history; which means that you won't find an extensive historical exposition of every single aspect from its history. Instead, you'll find an overview of how chocolate was involved in infamous events, such as what cacao had to do with slave trade and the like.

These stories from the history of chocolate aren't organised chronologically but thematically in four chapters, covering everything from enslavement at cacao plantations when the food became popular and profitable in Europe thanks to Spain's colonisation push, to pirating when the cacao trade flourished so much it became a coveted target for pirates & privateers, to using chocolate for covering up murder by poisoning for money or scorned feelings, political upheavals, seduction potions, culture wars, the two world wars, the Church, et cetera. Everything you can think of that went down badly, there's chocolate to be found in there in some way or another, up to the last chapter, covering the issue of the environmental impact of cacao as well as the social costs of its production and the push for "fair trade" chocolate that's trending these days.

And all these stories are made more interesting by the generous amount of chocolate recipes Kay has included, some of which are old and others that would take time & lots of patience to reproduce. Perhaps it's that I like chocolate, but I enjoyed the fact that Kay chose to insert the recipes right after telling a story where the chocolatey confection appears, in a "he liked this, here's the recipe" manner instead of leaving the recipes for the end of the chapter, or end of the book, as is traditional. I think it's far more engaging that way, bearing always in mind that the audience that'll appreciate this the most are chocoholics, although the downside is that it may make finding the recipes a bit harder since they're interspersed through the text and not separate.

I also appreciated that the book includes a long bibliography, with sources endnoted by the author that you can also look up if you're feeling like you need to read more. There's also photographs of places and personages mentioned in the book, for visual aid. The lover of History in me would've wanted it to elaborate more on the early history of chocolate in pre-Columbian times, because there are interesting bits from that period the book either doesn't mention or brushes over, leaving all the dark stuff to be post-Columbian, which gives an idea that chocolate didn't have a dark spot before. But ultimately, its anecdote-based style means it's a book for foodies with an interest in history rather than for history buffs, and it's a good one, with eye-catching recipes I'll be going back to and (fingers crossed) attempt.
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A Dark History of Chocolate by Emma Kay was received directly from the publisher and I chose to review it. I, like most everyone else, loves chocolate.  As such, I jumped at the opportunity to read and review this book. I learned many things about chocolate, such as/for example that its origin is Mexican.  Over the years  the Conquistadors, militaries from all over and even pirates all used its wonders.  Chocolate has been used as a sexual enhancer and a mood enhancer (sounds like the same thing to me).  The book is filled with recipes to use chocolate and I would be remiss  if I didn't mention the Japanese penis eating demons.  Read the book for more about these creatures.  At this time, I need to go partake in some chocolate.
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Emma Kay’s A Dark History of Chocolate is a short book: less than 200 pages and only four chapters. As with the other book that I’ve read by the same author, the history is interspersed with recipes. I’m not sure that the technique really works here. One minute, we’re learning about some horrific murders with poisoned chocolates, then we’re faced with a recipe for chocolate creams. I’d accept this if the recipe ended a chapter, thus bringing closure to a topic and ending it on an upbeat note, but the recipes are scattered throughout the text. Now, I was given an e-book proof to review and the final published book may well do a much better job of separating recipes from history, so please don’t let that comment worry you too much!

There are lots of interesting snippets in the book. For example, between the wars, Cadbury’s tested new products with children in South Derbyshire. One of those children was Roald Dahl.  And any book that mentions the real-life modern-day Willy Wonka – Paul A Young of London – wins my approval. God, the man is a genius with chocolate! I would trample little old ladies underfoot to get at his marmite truffles or his cream tea chocolates where you taste the cream, then the jam, then the scone – one after the other. Now and again, I felt there were a lot of facts and not enough explanation. For example, this sentence: “This letter from Governor Pulleine to the Council of Trade and Plantations offers one example of this:…”. Yes, it’s an interesting letter, but who was Governor Pulleine and what was the Council of Trade and Plantations? The narrative does jump around a bit, both chronologically and geographically.  I’m also wary of Kay’s statements after reading this one, “Poisoned chocolate remains one of the most common methods of murder throughout history.” Really? More people have been murdered using chocolates than with knives, guns, swords, fire or water? I’d love to know the academic reference for that statement. 

I was also intrigued to read that Joseph Terry “was knighted several times”. Wow! I thought one was knighted once, becoming, say, Sir Joseph Terry – and that was it. Did he get an extra Sir each time he was knighted? Kay also states that Rowntree’s Elect cocoa powder “… proved to be very successful right up until the two World Wars.” Surely, it must have been successful right up until one or the other, or to some point in the intra-war period, but how can it have been successful until both?

Kay’s humanity often shows though. Tony’s Chocolonely is described as “… a little glimmer in a sector which remains very dark indeed.”  However, I think Kay struggles to find enough material about chocolate’s dark side per se. We’re told about William Byrd, the founder of Richmond, Virginia. He wrote about Ozinda’s Chocolate Shop in London. He also wrote about his sexual assaults upon his female staff. Unless those assaults were caused by chocolate (unlikely) or took place in Ozinda’s (they didn’t), I don’t see how they give chocolate a dark side. Similarly, among the innocent civilians of San Sebastien killed or raped by Wellington’s soldiers in 1813, were chocolate makers and their wives. There were probably candle-makers in the list of victims too – does that give candle-making a dark side?

This is an interesting book, despite the careless wording of some points, but I think it’s stretching a point to say it’s about chocolate’s dark side. Just think of it as another general history of chocolate – with lots of recipes.
#ADarkHistoryofChocolate #NetGalley
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I never knew there was so much I didn't know about chocolate! This was a fascinating glimpse at some of the history of chocolate, from murders to movies. The inclusion of both new and old recipes throughout was a nice addition.

This is excels in its breadth of coverage. The author packs a lot of stories from history into a relatively short book. A lot of these stories were intriguing but felt too short, and I found myself wanting more details or analysis. I would love to read another book by this author that delved deeper into some of the most fascinating bits from history!
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Unfortunately this was a DNF from me. I found it very disappointing. I was expecting a detailed discussion of the historical and contemporary ways in which chocolate has been problematic. Instead, each chapter feels like a series of moments loosely tied together - "Killers, Cargo and Cajolery", chapter 1, is just weird - and not all of those moments are fundamentally tied to chocolate, either. Honestly it felt poorly structured and poorly edited because of that. 

The fact that recipes feature throughout should feel like a good thing - I have enjoyed this in other such books - but here it often felt out of place. Indeed, sometimes it seemed like stories were included specifically in order to get a recipe in, which seems backward. 

Also I would suggest that "Poisoned chocolate remains one of the most common methods of murder throughout history" (p8) is... something of an exaggeration. 

Overall, not a book I can commend.
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A very superficial view on the history of chocolate with lots and lots and historic recipes. What it lacks in the stories it makes up with recipes. Not much depths, but perhaps some interesting recipes for the home chocolatier.
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You know chocolate accompanied me on my journey through this book, don’t you? You might think that makes this book an outlier. You’d be so wrong. Professional chocoholic here! So much so that if you’re missing some chocolate, it’s fair to assume I‘m responsible. 

What this book did give me was a new excuse for my binge reading, chocolate binge combo: immersive reading. You can’t read a book about chocolate without eating some. That would be like watching Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory while eating cabbage soup.

I enjoyed learning about chocolate’s dark history, with the obvious exception of the information concerning slavery. In this book, you’ll learn about chocolate’s role in history, from crime to the arts.

Pirates raided ships with cacao on board. Jeffrey Dahmer worked in a chocolate factory. Chocolate is a final meal choice for many death row inmates.

“Poisoned chocolate remains one of the most common methods of murder throughout history.”

Chocolate was on the menu both the day the Hindenburg crashed and the Titanic sunk. 

Chocolate is practically everywhere, it seems. It’s even accompanied astronauts into space.

There was the seemingly ingenious marketing idea of having chocolate rain down from planes, which may have worked better if the ‘bombs’ didn’t result in people below being badly bruised. 

Chocolate laced with methamphetamine was marketed to “German homemakers, along with the strap line ‘Hildebrand chocolates are always a delight’. Two to three chocolates a day were recommended to make housework more fun!”

I was sometimes amused and often flabbergasted by the conditions chocolate has been used to ‘treat’ over the years, from headaches, fevers and infections to asthma, heart conditions and burns. It’s also been used as a slimming aid and to “Cleanseth the Teeth”.

Chocolate has even been ‘prescribed’ as a love potion. Handy hint: don’t eat love potion chocolate. You don’t want to know the other ingredients it may contain.

Scattered throughout the book are a bunch of recipes, from Chocolate Creams to the more dubious Chocolate Coated Candied Garlic.

Content warnings include mention of abortion, addiction, alcoholism, attempted suicide, death by suicide, domestic abuse, human trafficking, immolation, mental health, sexual assault, slavery and torture. People with emetophobia may have trouble with a passage in the third chapter.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Pen & Sword History, an imprint of Pen & Sword Books, for granting my wish to read this book.
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This is a lovely collection of stories about the dark, and also a bit lighter side of chocolate. I enjoyed learning new things about the history of chocolate, and about chocolate around the world. It is a really white people thing, it seems, except the collecting and the slaves. 

I found the many recipes to be a bit oddly placed, and I would rather have put them all at the end, unless it really had a strong connection with the story. 

This is a short book, and I am sure there are many more interesting stories about chocolate. I found the stories interesting, but I would have liked to read many more longer stories instead of a collection of this many really short bits. This is however a good handbook to turn to when you want to check some facts and stories about chocolate and its history.
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Date reviewed/posted: August 23, 2021
Publication date: September 30, 2021

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review an advanced reader's copy of this book. This in no way affects my review, all opinions are my own.

I am not a huge chocolate fan ... the chocolate bars I do seem to chose have very little chocolate on them ... Coffee Crisp, for one! If I was craving anything it would be cheese or mashed potatoes with goat cheese and lemon pepper. I once wrote an article on food craving and most people wanted chocolate ... women ... lol.  Now I am not saying that I do not eat my body weight in Nutella (I hate PB) every month or crave Mars Bars but for me, it is a sugar need not a cocoa need.

I freaking loved this book, though .. it was full of trivia that I can quote to hubby and history I can use for Trivial Pursuit tourneys.  It was well written and utterly enjoyable - I am a history freak so I loved is dark (um 72%+ ?) content and I want my one bookclub to do this book with lots of desserts on offer as that is where I tend to eat most of the chocolate I do end up eating.

I will recommend this book to friends, family, patrons, book clubs, and people reading books in the park as we do … I have had some of my best conversations about books down by the Thames!

As always, I try to find a reason to not rate with stars as I simply adore emojis (outside of their incessant use by "🙏-ed Social Influencer Millennials/#BachelorNation survivors/Tik-Tok and YouTube Millionaires/snowflakes / literally-like-overusers etc. ") on Instagram and Twitter... Get a real job, people!) so let's give it 🍫🍫🍫🍫🍫
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