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Sophie D Coe

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Name  Sophie Coe

Role  Author
Died  May 25, 1994, New Haven, Connecticut, United States
Books  The true history of chocolate, America's first cuisines
Nominations  James Beard Award for Writing and Literature

Sophie D. Coe, in full Sophie Dobzhansky Coe (1933–1994) was an anthropologist, food historian and author, primarily known for her work on the history of chocolate.


Early life and education

Sophie Dobzhansky's Ukrainian parents, Natalia Sivertzeva and Theodosius Dobzhansky, the noted geneticist and evolutionary biologist, had emigrated to the United States from the USSR in 1927. Sophie, their only child, was born in Pasadena, California in 1933, and the family moved to New York in 1940 when she was seven years old. In the late 1940s and early 1950s. Dobzhansky spent many of her summers assisting at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where Barbara McClintock, the Nobel Prize-winning cytogeneticist apparently particularly valued the care and gentleness with which she dealt with her experimental plants.

Dobzhansky graduated in 1955, majoring in anthropology, from Radcliffe College, where she was apparently known for her linguistic prowess (speaking Russian and Portuguese) and for keeping a tarantula in a bottle. She continued her postgraduate studies at Harvard and received her PhD in anthropology in 1964.


Sophie Coe translated from Russian selected chapters from Yuri Knorozov's "The Writing of the Maya Indians" (1967). Knorosov based his studies on De Landa's phonetic alphabet and is credited with originally breaking the Maya code, and Sophie Coe's translation played a major role in legitimizing his previously derided theories. She made another unique contribution to the field through her study of native New World cooking, writing a number of scholarly essays for Petits Propos Culinaires (PPC). Her research in this area culminated in America's First Cuisines (1994). This work contained a substantial amount of material on chocolate, which Sophie Coe decided to expand upon for her next book, The True History of Chocolate (1996). She became seriously ill during the research and writing of this book and it was published posthumously in 1996, having been completed by her widower, Michael D. Coe. It is now in its third edition.

Coe built an extensive collection of books on culinary history including community cookbooks, nearly 1,000 volumes from around the world dating from the eighteenth century onwards, as well as a group of manuscript cookbooks. She donated her collection of community cookbooks to the Schlesinger Library before her death, and afterwards her husband gave the library the rest of her collection.

After her death, Michael Coe, with the help of their friends Alan Davidson and Harlan Walker, set up the Sophie Coe Prize, a charitable trust based in the UK. The prize is awarded annually at the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery (which Coe attended every year) to an outstanding and original essay or book chapter in food history. One of the first of its kind at its foundation in 1995, the Sophie Coe Prize remains the most generous and esteemed prize for thorough and readable food history scholarship.

Personal life

On 5 June 1955, the summer of her undergraduate graduation and the day before her final exam in Byzantine history, Dobzhansky married Michael D. Coe, an archaeologist and anthropologist particularly renowned for his work on Maya civilisation and pre-Columbian Mesoamerican studies and professor at Yale, in a Russian Orthodox ceremony in New York City. They travelled and worked together extensively, and in 1969 they bought Skyline Farm, in Heath, Massachusetts where Sophie honed her much-admired cooking and gardening skills. They had five children—Nicholas, Andrew, Sarah, Peter, and Natalie. Sophie Coe died of cancer in 1994.


  • Coe, Sophie D., America's First Cuisines (1994), ISBN 0292711557 (hardback); ISBN 029271159X (paperback)
  • Coe, Sophie D. and Michael Coe, The True History of Chocolate (1996; 2003; 2013), Thames and Hudson, New York. ISBN 0500290687 (paperback), ISBN 978-0500290682 (hardback)
  • Articles

  • Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 1957 Review of Diego de Landa: Soobshchenie o delakh v lsukatani, 1566, by Y. V. Knorosov. American Antiquity 23 (2): 207-208.
  • Coe, Sophie D. (trans.), Knorosov, Yuri V. 1958 ‘The Problem of the study of the Maya Hieroglyphic writing.” American Antiquity 23: 248-291.
  • Coe, Sophie. "On Kulich." Petits Propos Culinaires (PPC) 12 (1982): 19-
  • Coe, Sophie. "Soviet Cook Books." Petits Propos Culinaires (PPC) 16, March (1984): 13-27.
  • Coe, Sophie. "Aztec Cuisine Part I." Petits Propos Culinaires (PPC) 19, March (1985): 11-22.
  • Coe, Sophie. "Aztec Cuisine Part II." Petits Propos Culinaires (PPC) 20, July (1985): 44-59.
  • Coe, Sophie. "Aztec Cuisine Part III." Petits Propos Culinaires (PPC) 21, November (1985): 45-56.
  • Coe, Sophie. "Eating Guinea Pigs in Italy. (Notes and Queries)" Petits Propos Culinaires (PPC) 28, April (1988): 63.
  • Coe, Sophie. "Inca Food: Animal and Mineral." Petits Propos Culinaires (PPC) 29, July (1988): 7-17.
  • Coe, Sophie. "Inca Food: Vegetable." Petits Propos Culinaires (PPC) 31, March (1989): 29-38.
  • Coe, Sophie. "Peru: The Inca and the Spaniards." Petits Propos Culinaires (PPC) 37, May (1991): 27-39.
  • References

    Sophie Coe Wikipedia

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