Book Review: In Print
Cameron L. McNeil
Reviewed by Claudia Alarcón, Fri., March 9, 2007
Chocolate in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao
edited by Cameron L. McNeil
University Press of Florida, 542 pp., $75
Chocolate in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao is an extensive collection of multidisciplinary essays that shed light on the latest discoveries regarding the cacao tree, its history of uses in ancient Mesoamerica, and the rituals of today's Mesoamerican cultures. Written by some of the world's most renowned experts in the fields of archaeology, history, anthropology, epigraphy, botany, and linguistics, with the majority of the work centered on Maya studies, this book contains a watershed of interesting and exciting information.
McNeil's introductory chapter on the biology, antiquity, and modern uses of the chocolate tree is the perfect example of the multidisciplinary approach taken to the book as a whole. Her research combines all the aforementioned disciplines into a cohesive, accessible, and very complete survey of cacao and its many cultural, environmental, and social implications. Simon Martin's essay on cacao in ancient Maya religion presents convincing evidence of the religious importance of the cacao plant in Maya cosmology in his usual thorough yet unpretentious style. Dorie Reents-Budet, senior research fellow at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, writes about the social context of kakaw drinking among the ancient Maya in her authoritative and captivating style, which itself can only be topped by her live presentations. For those interested in linguistics, Kaufman and Justeson's erudite and always controversial research on the history for the word cacao and related terms in ancient Mesoamerica is a must read. This amazing collection of essays might not be everyone's cup of cocoa, but for those with a serious interest in food history and foodways, it is an invaluable source of up-to-date information on one of the most beloved and revered foodstuff in the Americas.
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