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Thanks a Thousand: a Gratitude Journey by A. J. Jacobs


The latest book by A. J. Jacobs, Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey, begins with an impressive introduction. “It’s Tuesday morning, and I’m in the presence of one of the most mind-boggling accomplishments in human history. … This marvel I see before me is the result of thousands of human beings collaborating across dozens of countries. It took the combined labor of artists, chemists, politicians, mechanics, biologists, miners, packagers, smugglers, and goatherds. … It has caused great joy but also great poverty and oppression.”

The marvel before him? His morning cup of coffee. Jacobs didn’t always view his morning beverage as anything more than the caffeine necessary to kick start his day. He admits his personality runs more towards mildly grumpy than grateful. In an effort to tweak his mental attitude he decided to undertake a gratitude project.

After considering several possibilities he chose to focus on something he can’t live without, his coffee. Others must feel as he does as more than 2 billion cups of coffee are consumed each day. Jacobs decided to do something most coffee drinkers can’t do – embark on a quest to thank everyone responsible for his morning cup of coffee.

Jacobs begins his journey at the end, the finished project, or the place where he buys his morning cup, Joe Coffee. His barista, Chung, is his first thank you and she agrees to talk to him about being a barista. Chung provides him his first insight on being grateful – recognize that you are being served by a person not a means to an end.

Jacobs next step in the gratitude journey is the person who chooses the coffee Chung serves, Ed Kaufmann. Ed is passionate about coffee and gives Jacobs a lesson in coffee tasting. Ed becomes an important part of the gratitude journey when he issues an invitation to take the author with him to visit the small family farm in Colombia that provides the beans for Joe Coffee.

But the beans are the beginning and there are a lot more thank yous to be given before Jacobs travels to Colombia. He starts with the lid on his to go cup, then the logo, the tree farmer association and the coffee cup sleeve. Some are receptive to a thank you, others not so much.

Jacobs begins to realize the enormity of what he has undertaken. All the industries and people involved just making the cup his coffee comes in is astounding. Then there is the water and everyone involved in getting safe, clean water to the Joe Coffee location. The transportation, warehousing and storing of the coffee and supplies, the roasters, the extractors, and many more before he gets to the farmers. To keep his project manageable Jacobs decides to cap his journey at a thousand heartfelt thank yous (a list of all he thanked is at the end).

Jacobs packs a lot into this quick entertaining read. Besides gratitude and coffee, you’ll learn about the history of New York City water, find out how cup sleeves came to be, meet lots of interesting characters, and more.

This is a small tome with other books towering over it on the shelf but don’t overlook it. Thanks a Thousand will amuse, inform, and perhaps make you think about what you are grateful for and who you thanked today. As for me, I’m grateful for Jacobs’ perspective and I thank you for reading.

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