Candy is the great American comfort food; it is readily available, affordable, delicious (or should we say “scrumdidilyumptious”), and best of all — totally legal. Each year Americans consume more than 600 billion pounds of candy — music to dentists’ ears. The average person consumes about 24.3 pounds of candy per year; by the time an American enters the eternal candyland in the sky, he or she has consumed more than 2,000 pounds of sugar! Talk about a sugar rush.
Nothing evokes nostalgic childhood memories like candy. Children born after World War I grew up in what could be considered the Renaissance of candy manufacturing. Steve Almond, a self-confessed candy freak, elaborates: “Candy bars were viewed, especially during the Great Depression, as sustenance. They were America’s first fast food: cheap, self-contained, and (in the short-term at least) filling… The candy bar boom that swept the nation… provided an ideal laboratory for the marketing techniques that would soon dominate American commerce.” Back in the good ole days, candy manufacturers were smaller operations that sprang up all over America offering a wide selection of tasty sugary treats, many of them available only locally, with quirky names like the Lindy, the It bar, the Zep, Cocoanut Grove, and the Chicken Dinner (tastes just like chicken!). Back then kids could actually buy something for a nickel. Today, candies are produced by a few large multi-national corporations, offering a smaller selection of well-known (translation: heavily marketed) candies — and kids have to save up quite a few nickels to afford a single candy bar.
Bookshelf pays tribute to the cherished candy bar by presenting the best books on candy (and yes, we are excluding Charlie and the Chocolate by Roald Dahl written in 1964 because we all know that was fiction. Right?) :
Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond, Algonquin (2004)
A hilarious and sweet (not in the candy sort of way) peek of the history of candy-making in America. Most of the book is devoted to author’s sharp and funny observations about the last standing candy factories — small and large — in America. Any candy freak will feel kinship with Almond who is delightfully obsessive with his candy. He describes the flavor of some of his favorite candies with all the passion and nuance of a wine connoisseur describing a vintage wine. Like a magnificent chocolate bar, readers will devour the book, wishing there were more (unlike the candy bar, however, the book is calorie-free).
Sweet Tooth: The Bittersweet History of Candy by Kate Hopkins, St. Martins Press (2012)
Hopkins has sprinkled the cultural history of candy with keen observations and a steady wit. Hopkins offers a comprehensive history of candy, with its humble beginnings as medicine and its gradual evolution to a world-wide commodity, reaching a zenith with chocolatiers who have transformed chocolate into an art-form and an expensive delicacy. But the story of chocolate has a dark side — the chocolate industry fueled the ruthless slave trade, given rise to powerful multi-national corporations that stomp out smaller rivals, as well as contributed to the problem of obesity (and its related illnesses) all over the world.
Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World’s Greatest Chocolate Makers by Deborah Cadbury, Public Affairs (2010)
Cadbury (the great-great-great-granddaughter of 19th-century chocolate maker John Cadburye) takes the reader back in time to tell the engaging story of the chocolate wars: the various European and American chocolate dynasties (Fry, Rowntree, Lindt, Nestle, Hershey, Mars, Cadbury, Ghiradelli, and Kraft) that duked it out — slinging chocolate at one another in a very messy, chocolately battle — to perfect the chocolate recipe and dominate the worldwide market for their sweet, addictive product. Along the journey to chocolate enlightenment, readers will learn how Quakerism (proving that in a sugar-induced state, anything is possible) influenced chocolate in America.
The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars by Joel Brenner, Broadway Books (1998)
Brenner focuses on two rival candy makers that forever determined chocolate for the American palate: Frank Mars, founder of the Mars, Inc. (maker of the M&Ms, Milky Way, Snickers, and of cours, the Mars bar) and Milton Hershey, founder of The Hershey Company (maker of the Hershey Kiss, Mr. Goodbar, and the Krakel bar). Much like their soft drink counterparts, the candy manufactureres are extremely tightlipped about their recipes, factory equipment, and manufacturing processes as they battle over a steady multi-billion dollar market; however, Brenner parts the chocolate curtain to reveal the fascinating stories of the people (true chocoholics) who manage these companies and their unique corporate cultures.
Sweets: A History of Candy by Tim Richardson, Bloomsbury (2002)
Ironically, the book is written by a journalist who is the son of a dentist, and takes on the title of “the world’s first international confectionary historian.” At least his cavities can be justified by his legitimate research. Richardson’s book is a comprehensive, well-researched history of candy, (almost 400 pages long) beginning with the anthropological question of why we crave sweets in the first place, to the early development of candy in the medieval period, to the rise of multi-nationals that impact the nutritional health of just about every human being on the planet (and not necessarily in a good way). Like the other books, the book is drizzled with tasteful (or tasty) humor and delicious candy puns as well as mouthwatering candy trivia.