Coffeeland: A History by Augustine Sedgewick - review by Oliver Balch

Oliver Balch

The Great Bean Counter

Coffeeland: A History


Allen Lane 433pp £25

On 31 October 1979, two jeeps full of armed men from the People’s Revolutionary Army of El Salvador burst into Jaime Hill’s compound in San Salvador, dispatched his security personnel and promptly kidnapped him. They demanded an $8-million ransom, plus Hill’s armoured car. The Scotch-drinking playboy rustled up half the money and was eventually released, sin vehículo.

So runs the adrenaline-fuelled opening scene of Coffeeland. In the spirit of all classic whodunnits, Augustine Sedgewick delivers the crime upfront. But who are the main players? And how did we get here? The remainder of this erudite and engrossing socioeconomic history provides the answers to these two basic questions.

The first is easier than the second. The wastrel heir of a Salvadoran coffee empire, Hill plays just a bit part in the story. It is the creator of his inherited fortune on whom the book focuses. To learn who he is, we must return to the slums of Manchester

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