• Caffeine

  • How Caffeine Created the Modern World
  • By: Michael Pollan
  • Narrated by: Michael Pollan
  • Length: 2 hrs and 2 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (40,489 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Michael Pollan, known for his best-selling nonfiction audio, including The Omnivores Dilemma and How to Change Your Mind, conceived and wrote Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World as an Audible Original. In this controversial and exciting listen, Pollan explores caffeine’s power as the most-used drug in the world - and the only one we give to children (in soda pop) as a treat.

Pollan takes us on a journey through the history of the drug, which was first discovered in a small part of East Africa and within a century became an addiction affecting most of the human species. Caffeine, it turns out, has changed the course of human history - won and lost wars, changed politics, dominated economies. What’s more, the author shows that the Industrial Revolution would have been impossible without it. The science of how the drug has evolved to addict us is no less fascinating. And caffeine has done all these things while hiding in plain sight! Percolated with Michael Pollan’s unique ability to entertain, inform, and perform, Caffeine is essential listening in a world where an estimated two billion cups of coffee are consumed every day.

©2019 Michael Pollan (P)2020 Audible Originals, LLC.

Interview with author Michael Pollan

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Our favorite moments from Caffeine

Caffeine withdrawal
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Alertness, focus, and stamina
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Caffeine in sodas
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  • Caffeine
  • Caffeine withdrawal
  • Caffeine
  • Alertness, focus, and stamina
  • Caffeine
  • Caffeine in sodas

About the Creator and Performer

Michael Pollan is the author of many books on food, cuisine, and addiction, including How to Change Your Mind, Cooked, Food Rules, In Defense of Food, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and The Botany of Desire, all of which were New York Times bestsellers. A longtime contributor to The New York Times Magazine, he also teaches writing at Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. In 2010, TIME magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. In addition to his reporting and writing, he has garnered praise for his narration; Audible listeners have hailed Pollan’s audiobooks as "especially marvelous [to hear] in his own voice."

Photographed by Jeannette Montgomery Barron

What listeners say about Caffeine

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Leaves much to be desired

I know this was free and, well, you get what you pay for; but this could have been awesome. Such a bummer this was so short and basically trivial information about coffee here and there but mostly just an essay of Mr. Pollan getting off caffeine than an actual study of it as the drug of choice in this country as the description would have you believe. Pollan is an amazing author, “In defense of food” transformed my life around food, so I guess I was hoping for something similar here but I guess that’s my expectations fault.

132 people found this helpful

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All things considered, it’s a great option

I’m writing this review having on mind that some people might be considering if they should spend their one of their 2 monthly audible originals pick on this book. The answer is yes and I’m going to tell you why.
Despite the fact it’s quite a short book (only 2 hours), I’ve noticed this format is quite common among the selected audible originals they offer. Considering the time restriction it’s worth mentioning one thing: this book covers a LOT of topics, but only talk about each briefly. You’re not going to have a deep analysis on any of the following subjects, however, this is expected when we’re talking about a 2 hours book.

It all starts when the author, Michael Pollan, decides to try going without caffeine for a couple months. This made him reconsider his relation with caffeine and the impacts it had on our history. Along his journey, Michael explains why the beverage, chemically speaking, got so popular, and even links it to the golden age of Middle East, when math was heavily studied, and many findings were made. On the western world, the introduction of coffee made possible quite a lot of changes, that were essential to the development of our modern life, such as the introduction of night shifts, the increase of employer’s production and an augmented tolerance to long hours. As Michael says, it “helped create a new kind of worker”.

However, that wasn’t something entirely beneficial. In fact, the benefits of caffeine are frequently questioned even nowadays. Caffeine was already blamed on cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and even mental illnesses. In the past, the author tells us that there was even a pamphlet claiming that coffee was responsible for the decrease of men’s sexual interest and fertility. Finally, the author wisely points that “caffeine helps us to cope with the world caffeine helped to create”, refereeing to the more demanding work shifts and sleep issues, leaving us with a last question - who’s getting the best out of the human/coffee interaction? Us, or the plants, that shaped us into assuring their survival and massive spread? The answer is up to you.

I for sure recommend this book as a fun listening for your evening. It might not make you an expert on the topic, however, it will surely give you lots of new information that can spice your conversations, as well as offer some perspective on how complex human civilization is, and how one detail (such the appearance of a new beverage) can change everything.


Some highlights:
*The appearance of the first coffee shops in Europe can be compared to Internet forums. Back then, people with the same interests would gather at specific coffee shops to talk, spread news and interact.
*Bees that are exposed to plants that contain caffeine come back to these same plants more often and remember them much more than other plants.
*The introduction of coffee reduced alcohol use and contributed to create a more sober work environment

95 people found this helpful

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Wordy for a short book...

More like reading a diary. Not many facts to latch on to. The performance was very good though.

52 people found this helpful

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Half Caf

Well written and told but science and history at Wikipedia level and sometimes appears overly credulous to broad conclusions reached by individual researchers

42 people found this helpful

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  • 02-02-20

Best free audible yet!

I prefer scientific and historical books however I'm picky with the readers. The subject matter was good, the story telling kept me interested and overall i love it! I'm recommending this to my friends.

35 people found this helpful

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A deep look at the world's most common drug

Deeply researched, yet still suspiciously speculative, this title takes an objective and subjective look at everyone's favorite pick me up. I can't give it full marks due to how sensationalist some of it gets. Overall, a good quick listen as long as you can get it for free.

26 people found this helpful

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Short, but an all encompassing look at caffeine...

Pollan is an excellent researcher and writer. He dives into coffee and caffeine. The effects. The economy. And More.

I also love his readings.

24 people found this helpful

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Wonderful!

I learned so much about coffee in some of the most enjoyable couple of hours spent listening to a book. I am a coffee addict but I have what I consider reasonable willpower and do limit myself to only a morning cupful. This books information has provided insight in regard to that morning cupful and spurred addition research. But most importantly will keep me mindful in regard to the whole issue of coffee drinking. All offered in a delightful listening experience. I highly recommend and will look for more from this author who is also a great narrator.

21 people found this helpful

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A worthwhile listen

I found this book insightful, entertaining, thought provoking, intelligent, personal & well researched. Loved it!

18 people found this helpful

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Very enjoyable

Great listen. I drink coffee and tea for pleasure, not for a caffeine kick. In fact, even when I have abstained for long periods of time I still don’t feel any boost from it. This book gave a lot of interesting information, and things to think about regarding even imperceptible effects the drug is having on my system. I also really enjoyed the historical context given. Ultimately, a wonderful book. Thank you!

11 people found this helpful

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  • Laura
  • 05-31-20

Michael Pollan's relationship with caffeine

Michael Pollan explores his relationship with caffeine. He goes cold turkey, and becomes a bit sanctimonious. Then he explores the science and a litte history. It was alright.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 01-17-21

Good

Nice easy listen. Mainly interesting for the history. I expected an expose of sorts but really it’s just a short exploration of the role of caffeine in society. You already know quite a bit on that I’d say.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Aaron Wheeldon
  • 03-03-20

Short but just about the right amount of intrigue

Caffeine, and the human condition for caffeine dependency, is something that has greatly interested me for years now due to my own [previous] caffeination. This is the first such book I have found that looks directly into these effects - which left me longing to know more. Much of the book is spent on the history of the two most frequent sources of caffeine in society - tea and coffee. But what really gripped me was Pollan’s own experiment into becoming caffeine-free and then the transition from sobriety to caffeinated again. Chapter 16 includes some of the best and most accurate writing I have ever heard to describe the most common and pervasive psychedelic experience known to man - the initial hook & effects of caffeine to a sober user. This one passage of writing gave me a new appreciation for the ritual of caffeine and how this can be used in our lives. Probably due to the parallels that Pollan’s experience can draw to the vast majority of people’s lives - as caffeine is so vital to every day society - the book leaves you wanting to know more. Much of the scientific substance included in the book is a [very] condensed version of Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker which is the immediate next step to take in this journey. On a discovery journey, it is a good initial listen which opens the reader up to a much wider topic at hand.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Martin Cummerou
  • 10-21-21

Great book, but don't buy it

This is a great book, but just be aware that the entirety of it is included in "this is your mind on plants" so I'd recommend getting that book instead.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Sigrin
  • 09-04-22

More instant than Expresso

If this was coffee, I would describe it as budget instant granules.

It lacked that rich full bodied kick.

Unlike real coffee, it was free.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Eleni Lekaki
  • 10-03-21

All should read 😊

Michael Pollan's narration skills are amazing! I have already quit coffee but he just confirmed all my reasons to. 😊

1 person found this helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 08-26-21

you'll need coffee to stay awake

Listening to this was like listening to a stream of consciousness. Little drips of historical facts speckled an unending stream of self-awareness that I found utterly uninteresting.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-05-20

Too short

It was good for what it was but too short to satisfy my tastes. However it was well done and thought provoking as one dude’s experimental story.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Frieda
  • 09-08-22

Stimulating

Such a fascinating and stimulating (haha) information piece. There was a time that I couldn't drink coffee for over 7 years, I would have to go to the bathroom before the cup was even finished. But I kept craving it. Tea or anything else was just not good enough. This makes that more thought provoking.

The history was also very new to me, although thinking about it makes me realise how much we don't know about our food and drinks.

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  • Alex Jenkins
  • 09-06-22

A double espresso with sugar

It's short but sweet, packed with Michael Pollan's laudible energy and insight. He carefully combines his own experiences with coffee and his research with a few interviews and papers in non-spill cardboard packaging and a cardboard slip to-go.

Recommended for an entertaining, light listen that will deepen your appreciation of a morning brew. If you're looking for a deeper dive with timelines and more precise science and history, however, this isn't your cup of tea. Still, I drank this in an afternoon, and it went down like a cup of sunshine.

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  • Tiziano
  • 07-12-21

“At the right time”

I have been struggling with reducing caffeine or at least drink alternatively due to the fact I felt I just got ADD!!!
This audiobook has just confirmed to me what a powerful psychoactive drug caffein is.
Also, very accurate in the explanation or historical origin of coffee.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-24-20

An Interesting Introduction Into The World Of Coffee

I love coffee. I love the smell, the taste, the sound and the cafe coffee culture that surrounds the drink. So that’s why when I saw a book completely about the subject, (it’s called Caffeine, but really it should be called Coffee) it became an easy decision as to where I should spend my monthly credit.

Caffeine is an introduction to the world of coffee. It brushes on the history of the plant, how it survived, propagated and evolved, how humans discovered it and began to manipulate it for their own benefit and the threads of culture that began to arrive around it. It also documents Pollan’s own relationship as a coffee drinker who relinquishes the drink for his own research and the reintegration of this caffeine back into his life. The positives and negatives of drinking coffee and brushed upon as well, however, there isn’t an ironclad conclusion to be reached; like most things in life the reality isn’t ‘do or do not do’ but somewhere in the middle where balance can be struck.

I enjoyed listening to this book. Pollan is a great writer and narrator and I enjoyed the ebb and flow of the history and reasonings interspersed with Pollan’s own running commentary and experience. My only fault would be that the book is too brief; I wanted more of everything, more history, more biology, more anecdotal theories, but alas, it may just be the coffee drinker in me.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Alexander
  • 04-14-20

An excellent listen

A must listen if you are a regular caffeine consumer ! I really enjoyed listening. I won’t be given up caffeine just yet but I will ensure I drink less and perhaps start to use it in a micro dose format or just drink more consciously.

1 person found this helpful

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  • mokagio
  • 09-27-22

As disappointing as coffee served in foam cups

I can’t put my finger on it, but I found this short Audible original disappointing.

Tom Standage’s account on coffee in A History of the World in Six Glasses (heavily cited here) was much more entertaining and informative for me.

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  • Katherine Trees
  • 09-11-22

Highly recommend and a fun listen

I really liked this audio lecture/book. It was a great short listen that has given me pause for thought about my daily use of caffeine. I am definitely an addict.

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  • Blake Walden
  • 09-07-22

More of an Espresso than a Long Black

Short and sweet, this audiobook does everything it sets out to do nearly flawlessly. The core ideas are expressed perfectly but I do wish to have had a little more to sip at throughout the read. I found myself enraptured at the 'history of coffeehouses' section which came and went more swiftly than I would have liked and given the brevity of the piece, perhaps could have been expounded upon. It felt light in places, perhaps lacking the fullness and body one expects from a good cup, never delivering more than I expected. But perhaps the point was more to introduce and summarise the history of coffee than really brew the ideas to their natural, bitter extremes. Ultimately I found myself wanting more, not unlike the average coffee addict. (or bean bro if you prefer, and if you don't, I don't want to hear about it) I would have rendered a 4.5 if I could because I believe it executed it's brief nearly flawlessly. The vocal delivery is conversational and easy to listen to and I can say I enjoyed every minute.

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  • Jason
  • 08-25-22

I raise my cup to Michael!

Great insight into the intriguing history of coffee/tea and the impact caffeine has had over populations for so many years. Your morning cup of Joe will be more of a religious experience after listening!

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  • Terri
  • 08-01-22

Michael Pollan - How can you go wrong!

I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read and listened to by Michael Pollan, and again, this short work didn’t disappoint.

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  • Margaret
  • 07-09-22

Excellent book

I’ve read a lot about caffeine before but never as well researched as this. The author also walks the talk while writing. This book gave me all the necessary information to make up my own mind. The research findings hit home, rang bells and made absolute sense. I highly recommend this book.

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