The 125th anniversary of the first Coca-Cola sold — on May 8, 1886, for 5 cents — has inspired the release of “Coca-Cola,” a collection of images of the beverage, in realms real and imagined, from Assouline. Arguably the world’s most ubiquitous brand, the jolly red logo has been pasted on just about every susceptible surface on the planet, and this book serves to remind us youngsters of the breadth and endurance of its appeal, just in case it wasn’t already stitched into the fabric of our pop culture psyches. Indeed, at times, “Coca-Cola” seems less a birthday tribute to the stamina of a yummy, fizzy black taste with mysterious origins and more a tribute to several generations of successful advertising. And let’s not forget its importance as a symbol of what’s great about our republic. As Andy Warhol, no stranger to ubiquity or commercialism, contests on Page 8, Coke “started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. … A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good.”
But make no mistake. “This is not a book of commercials,” Coca-Cola’s chief executive and chairman, Muhtar Kent, insists in the foreword. Instead, it’s a celebration, a heartfelt thank you: for $65, we, along with the bums, are invited to purchase this collection of 169 depictions of Coke, in photography and illustration, interspersed with text extolments from singers, authors — notably, Henry Miller, who couldn’t live without the stuff, and John Cheever, who had it for breakfast with gin and eggs — and former C.E.O.’s. (For the truly grateful, there is the “Limited Edition Ultimate Collection,” comprising the same 208 pages and 169 pictures, but on larger paper and at 10 times the cost.) Besides the essay by Mr. Kent, Coca-Cola includes a timeline that notes some of the more salient hallmarks of Coke’s history, like the first time a soft drink went into space (1985), or the first time a polar bear appeared in an advertisement (1922).
There are indeed some treasures — President Richard M. Nixon, pausing from the Real Thing to wolf down a hamburger; Naomi Campbell in Coke-can hair curlers; Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton in a chugging contest — and the drawings and paintings toward the back are fascinating artifacts of early-20th-century Americana. But the book doesn’t quite go far enough as an assessment of American advertising aesthetics (you have to look really hard for artists’ credits and dates), and lacking as such, simply reads, or better, looks like a book of commercials. Mr. Kent invites us to grab an ice-cold Coke and find a comfortable place to “read,” sit back and enjoy, and so we shall. We barely have a choice. As for me, the bums and John Cheever, though, we’ll have ours spiked with gin. — MATT MCCANN | May 9, 2011| NYTimes