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A Thirst for Empire:
How Tea Shaped the Modern World
Erika Rappaport

Hardcover | 2017 | $39.50 | £32.95 | ISBN: 9780691167114
568 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 53 halftones. 7 tables. 3 maps.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400884858 |
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How the global tea industry influenced the international economy and the rise of mass consumerism

Tea has been one of the most popular commodities in the world. Over centuries, profits from its growth and sales funded wars and fueled colonization, and its cultivation brought about massive changes—in land use, labor systems, market practices, and social hierarchies—the effects of which are with us even today. A Thirst for Empire takes a vast and in depth historical look at how men and women—through the tea industry in Europe, Asia, North America, and Africa—transformed global tastes and habits and in the process created our modern consumer society.

As Erika Rappaport shows, between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries the boundaries of the tea industry and the British Empire overlapped but were never identical, and she highlights the economic, political, and cultural forces that enabled the British Empire to dominate—but never entirely control—the worldwide production, trade, and consumption of tea. Rappaport delves into how Europeans adopted, appropriated, and altered Chinese tea culture to build a widespread demand for tea in Britain and other global markets and a plantation-based economy in South Asia and Africa. Tea was among the earliest colonial industries in which merchants, planters, promoters, and retailers used imperial resources to pay for global advertising and political lobbying. The commercial model that tea inspired still exists and is vital for understanding how politics and publicity influence the international economy.

An expansive and original global history of imperial tea, A Thirst for Empire demonstrates the ways that this fluid and powerful enterprise helped shape the contemporary world.

Erika Rappaport is professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is the author of Shopping for Pleasure: Women in the Making of London's West End (Princeton) and coeditor of Consuming Behaviors: Identities, Politics and Pleasure in Twentieth Century Britain (Bloomsbury).


"The book moves from the coffeehouses of London to the muggy plantations of Assam to the advertising firms of Madison Avenue, revealing the technologies and marketing techniques that were instrumental in achieving tea’s global popularity. Along the way, Rappaport touches on the temperance movement, commodity chains, Americans’ famous dislike of tea, and the sociocultural sphere inhabited by the planter class in Southeast Asia, among many other topics. Exhaustively researched and winningly recounted."--Publishers Weekly

"The result of prodigious research and full of flavoursome detail, A Thirst for Empire will certainly stimulate."--John Keay, Literary Review

"Lively, thoughtful and highly engaging. . . . Elegant and authoritative. Rappaport’s command of scholarship and eye for detail are formidable. She is a subtle and scrupulously attentive user of sources. Yet she also knows how to make these academic qualities and requirements serve the broader demands of informative and vibrant storytelling. On almost every page there is an arresting detail, a surprising observation, a fascinating anecdote, a collectible nugget of trivia.--Matthew Adams, The National


"In Erika Rappaport's big, beautifully illustrated book, we have the first global history of how tea became a universal beverage. Rappaport accomplishes this feat by circling the world created by British imperialism, connecting tea pickers, plantation owners, traders, retail shop owners, chain stores, teetotalers, workers on their breaks, and ladies that lunch. Exploring the tea leaf's transformation from plant to drink, Rappaport tells a rigorous, vivid story of the workings of modern capitalism."--Victoria de Grazia, Columbia University

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File created: 8/9/2017

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