Allen, Stewart Lee
Allen, Stewart Lee
Writer. Has worked in various occupations, including as a bathroom attendant, punk musician, theatrical director, grape picker, and grave digger.
Won an award for The Art of Rape.
The Devil's Cup: Coffee, the Driving Force in History, Soho (New York, NY), 1999.
In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food, Ballantine (New York, NY), 2002.
Also author of fiction collection The Art of Rape.
Stewart Lee Allen has gained attention for his two books on food culture history. The Devil's Cup: Coffee, the Driving Force in History is an "appealing offbeat" work, according to a Publishers Weekly critic, in which the author spans the world and history to trace the story of coffee from its Ethiopian origins to the present day. Along the way he makes stops to talk about such things as coffee's role in the Islamic Whirling Dervishes, whose hyperactive ceremony begins with drinking coffee, to the French Revolution, where some say the Bastille was stormed in order to get supplies of coffee to the Marquis de Sade, to its present prevalence in coffee shops in the United States and around the world. Many critics, such as Kliatt reviewer Shirley Reis, enjoyed Allen's work as a "highly entertaining romp," and critic Richard Reynolds concluded in his Salon.com article that The Devil's Cup "manages to convey a surprisingly thorough basic history of coffee in an entertaining package that no one could mistake for a textbook."
Critics were somewhat less pleased with Allen's follow-up book, In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food, which organizes a history of food taboos and legends loosely around chapters named after the seven deadly sins. Allen makes associations between food and everything from religion to sex to the collapse of entire empires. For example, he relates that Etruscan priests examining the liver of a sheep predicted their empire's collapse, and so the Etruscans decided to submit to the Roman Empire without a fight. Europeans once despised the tomato and chocolate for their New World origins, and potatoes were once believed to make people lazy and so were blamed for causing famine in Ireland. Stephanie Foote, writing in Book, enjoyed the "wonderful anecdotes"; however, she added that "because he [the author] is so cursory in his analyses, he rarely sates the curiosity he piques." A Publishers Weekly contributor similarly wrote: "The book's tone—flip and entertaining—seems geared to the casual foodie, but its breeziness is often frustrating." In a Kliatt assessment, however, Katherine E. Gillen concluded: "This is a clever book that trivia experts will love and students assigned the ‘food history’ paper will find useful."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Book, March-April, 2002, Stephanie Foote, review of In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food, p. 79.
Booklist, February 1, 2002, Mark Knoblauch, review of In the Devil's Garden, p. 918.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2001, review of In the Devil's Garden, p. 1729.
Kliatt, July, 2003, Katherine E. Gillen, review of In the Devil's Garden, p. 46, and Shirley Reis, review of The Devil's Cup: Coffee, the Driving Force in History, p. 46.
Library Journal, February 1, 2002, John Charles, review of In the Devil's Garden, p. 124.
Publishers Weekly, September 27, 1999, review of The Devil's Cup, p. 81; December 24, 2001, review of In the Devil's Garden, p. 50.
Spectator, July 6, 2002, Digby Anderson, "Pop Anthrop Flop," review of In the Devil's Garden, p. 33.
Wilson Quarterly, winter, 2000, Justine A. Kwiatkowski, review of The Devil's Cup, p. 118.
Jive Magazine Online,http://www.jivemagazine.com/ (January 17, 2004), Jesika Brooks, review of In the Devil's Garden.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (November 23, 1999), Richard Reynolds, review of The Devil's Cup.
Three Monkeys Online,http://www.threemonkeysonline.com/ (November 25, 2006), Michael O'Connor, review of The Devil's Cup.