A definitive history of Coca-Cola, the world’s best-known brand, by a New York Times reporter who has followed the company and who brings fresh insights to the world of Coke, telling a larger story about American business and culture
The Real Thing is a portrait of America’s most famous product and the men who transformed it from mere soft drink to symbol of freedom. The story, starting with Coke’s creation after the Civil War and continuing with its domination of the domestic and worldwide soft-drink business, is a uniquely American tale of opportunity, hope, teamwork, and love, as well as salesmanship, hubris, ambition, and greed. By 1920, the Coca-Cola Company’s success depended on a unique partnership with a group of independent bottlers. Together, they had made Coke not just a soft drink but an element of our culture. But the company, intent on controlling everything about Coke, did all it could to dismantle that partnership. In its reach for power, it was more than willing to gamble the past.
Constance L. Hays examines a century of Coca-Cola history through the charismatic, driven men who used luck, spin, and the open door of enterprise to turn a beverage with no nutritional value into a remedy, a refreshment, and the world’s best-known brand. The story of Coke is also a catalog of carbonation, soda fountains, dynastic bottling businesses, global expansion, and outsize promotional campaigns, including New Coke, one of the greatest marketing debacles of all time. By examining relationships at all levels of the company, The Real Thing reveals the psyche of a great American corporation and how it shadows all business, for better or worse.
This is as much a story about America as it is the tale of a great American product, one recognized all over the world. Under the leadership of Roberto Goizueta and Doug Ivester, Coca-Cola reinvented itself for investors, spearheading trends such as lavish executive salaries and the wooing of Wall Street, but when Coke’s great global ambitions ran into trouble, it had difficulty getting back on track.
The Real Thing is a journey through the soft-drink industry, from the corner office to the vending machine. It is also a social history in which sugared water becomes an international object of consumer desire—and the messages poured upon an eager public gradually obscure the truth.
Constance L. Hays has worked as a reporter for The News and Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, and, since 1986, for The New York Times, where she covered the food and beverage industry for three years. She lives in New… More about Constance L. Hays
“Before the Golden Arches, red-and-white Coca-Cola signs were the most ubiquitous symbols of American consumerism on the planet. Constance Hays tells the story of how Coke got its ?zz—and then almost lost it—in sparkling prose that’s both sweet and tart, just like the pop.” —Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind
“The Real Thing brings the story of one of America’s oldest commercial and cultural icons up to date—a tale of power, ego, and money inside one of the world’s largest companies. With a journalist’s investigative skills and a strong narrative voice, Constance Hays puts the reader inside the minds of Coca-Cola’s top executives and fanatic consumers, showing how the modern, ever-changing global business world works through the simplest of products. Thoroughly researched and compellingly written, taking you through incredible triumphs and massive blunders, The Real Thing is a fascinating read.” —Joël Glenn Brenner, author of The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey & Mars
“[Hays] ably makes the point that there’s no comparison for the emotional connection that people in America and around the world have with a Coke….She also recounts with a proper sense of tragedy the sad blunders of the last few years that have practically unmade the company….Gripping material, dramatically told.” —Kirkus Reviews