rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Emperors of Chocolate begins…
Candy. The word itself is magic. A sweet invitation to childhood. To days of hide-and-seek and stickball and ABCs and sugarplums that dance like fairies in your head.
Never mind that you’ve never tasted a sugarplum. It’s the fantasy that counts. That mystical, mesmerizing pull of licorice and lollipops, peppermints and chocolate drops. They beckon from the shelf like children from the playground, gentle reminders of a time when simply walking into a drugstore could make your mouth water.
What better book to read during the Trick or Treat Season than a book about chocolate? The Emperors of Chocolate is a non-fiction look at the history of 2 American chocolate companies: Hershey and Mars. The book looks at how both companies were founded, how they developed their businesses and the history of competition between the two. The book was very readable and filled with interesting factoids about the chocolate industry. The book alternates between the histories of Mars and Hershey and also weaves in some general chocolate history.
As you read the book you quickly discover that Milton Hershey and Forrest Mars Sr. were vastly different men with extremely different methods of running their businesses. Forrest Mars Sr. was extremely frugal and wouldn’t allow his own kids to eat any of the candy since they needed every last bit of it to sell. The Mars family is relatively secretive and rarely grants interviews. Brenner is one of the only people they’ve allowed to interview them. Meanwhile, Milton Hershey was a man with a grand vision for a utopia anchored by his chocolate factory in Pennsylvania. Hershey founded an orphanage and school for boys and built an entire town of affordable housing for his employees. Today, Hershey is a publicly traded company whereas Mars remains majorly owned by the Mars family.
The book uncovers the story behind the creation of some of America’s most popular candy. Some candies came about due to the need to have a candy that can be easily transported or included in army rations. There is also a reason why Mars doesn’t offer much in the way of chocolate with peanut butter– because the Mars brothers don’t like peanut butter so they don’t think they should sell it to their customers. There are also many more chocolaty factoids in the book.
I didn’t find The Emperors of Chocolate to be quite as enjoyable as Candyfreak by Steve Almond, but this is a good read for any chocoholic interested in the history of the rivalry between Hershey and Mars. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys narrative non-fiction and the history of the food industry.
In the mood for chocolate now? Try one of these recipes: