â€œThe transformation of cultural and legal taboos against plants fascinates me,â€ says Ricardo CortÃ©s at the end of his new picture book, A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola (Akashic). If you have ever wondered about the coca in Coca-Cola, the caffeine in coffee, or the irrational pharmacological prejudices in our drug laws, this charmingly eccentric combination of detailed historical research and child-friendly drawings is worth your attention.
Unlike Itâ€™s Just a Plant, the 2005 picture book about marijuana that CortÃ©s wrote and illustrated, but like Go the Fuck to Sleep, the 2011 â€œchildrenâ€™s book for adultsâ€ he illustrated, this one is not really aimed at kids. Even grownups may not make it all the way through CortÃ©sâ€™ painstaking facsimiles of correspondence between Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger and Coca-Cola lobbyist Ralph Hayes. But the main story is easily digested and full of interesting details about how psychoactive substances come to be accepted or rejected. â€"Jacob Sullum