Sunday 3 March 2024

Book Review: A History of Europe in 12 Cafés by Monica Porter (Non-Fiction/History)

Title: A History of Europe in 12 Cafés
Author: Monica Porter
Publisher: Pen & Sword History
Publication Date: 30 April 2024
Pages: 216
Format: eBook - PDF
Genre: Non-Fiction/History
Source: ARC via NetGalley

Since the seventeenth century, the café, or coffee house, in Europe has been the key gathering place of innovators and mavericks – the writers, artists, philosophers and political figures who formed influential affiliations and gave birth to revolutionary movements that still affect our lives today. It was the type of establishment ideally suited for this role. Unlike the tavern, pub or bar, where one’s senses grow ever duller from alcohol, one can sit for hours in a café with like-minded companions, consuming the coffee that sharpens wits and conversations. No wonder so many new ideas were generated in the legendary cafés of Paris and Vienna, Rome and Venice, Prague, Budapest and other major European cities.

In her latest book, Monica Porter leads the reader on an entertaining waltz through six centuries, nine European countries (plus America) and a wealth of historic episodes featuring some of the most intriguing and noteworthy people who ever lived. As she reveals, playing its vital part in all their stories – at times in the background, at times front and centre – is that enticing venue: the café.

The twelve venerable establishments of the book’s title – the oldest dating from 1686, the newest from 1911 – are all still in existence. And so, after learning about their fascinating historical associations, readers can experience these places for themselves, which makes the volume an ideal companion for history buffs, travellers and café-lovers alike.


A History of Europe in 12 Cafés was a book with an interesting idea; however, I don't feel it quite delivered overall. The balance of countries was a little off, with some over-represented and others ignored. I also wondered at the need to include a chapter on the US when the book says in its title it's about Europe. The information presented began with a history of coffee and coffee houses before zeroing in on particular establishments. There was nothing wrong with the information presented, but it was all very basic and the same facts could easily be found with a few quick online searches. A little deeper research and scholarly analysis would have taken the book to a higher level. However, if you are coming to the topic with no prior knowledge, this would make a good introductory text as it covers all the basics and is easy reading. I am therefore giving it three stars.

I received this book as a free eBook ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

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