The Real Thing: Truth and Power at the Coca-Cola Company By Constance L. Hays Random House $200 During the mid-1990s, there was a series of histories of the Coca-Cola Company. Constance Hays obviously thought we needed another chronicle of perhaps the world's best known brand name. She brings us up to date with developments at the corporate goliath, which has been going through a sticky patch. Hays, who spent several years on the food and beverage beat as a New York Times reporter, focuses on the recent efforts by Coca-Cola to become the world's most dominant beverage. Early chapters jump back and forth between Coke's modern global strategy and problems (such as the New Coke marketing debacle) and the company's first century of increasing dominance in its home market. First promoted for its claimed medicinal properties, Coke's original formula contained cocaine from the coca leaf and caffeine from the cola nut. As Asa Candler - who bought the formula from its inventor, John Pemberton, in 1888 - enthused at the time: 'The medical properties of the coca plant make [Coca-Cola] a medical preparation ... [recommended] for mental and physical exhaustion, headache, depression, etc.' Narcotics were liberally prescribed in 19th-century America. However, not everyone shared Candler's enthusiasm for the medical properties of cocaine. As the country became less tolerant of such drugs, the coca content was dropped from Coca-Cola. Company executives later denied the beverage had ever contained cocaine. The marketing pitch was changed first to Coke's refreshing qualities and later to a less tangible lifestyle choice. Hays describes Coca-Cola's success through the activities of chief executives such as Candler and his successors. She also describes in more detail than most readers would care to know the ins and outs of carbonation, bottling agreements, global promotional campaigns, syrups and soda fountains. Under the leadership of presidents such as Dan Keough, Doug Ivester and Roberto Goizueta during Coke's halcyon days of the 1970s through to the 90s, the company thrived. However, towards the end of the 20th century, under president and chief executive Doug Daft, Coca-Cola suffered severe financial setbacks - including the loss of a US$193 million racial discrimination case. There were an unprecedented 6,000 staff layoffs, mostly at the Atlanta headquarters, and bottling scares and product recalls in Europe. These woes prompted an unheralded slide in the stock price. Despite the introduction of new products such as Vanilla Coke and an energy drink, the stock price continues to slide, and the company is still trying to reinvent itself, under Steven J. Heyer, who took over in late 2002. While The Real Thing is generally well written and entertaining, and provides an interesting angle on recent history, it's not at all clear that it contains sufficient material to have justified yet another history of the Coca-Cola Company. This is one for the library shelves.