‘In Chocolate We Trust,’ Peter Kurie, University of Pennsylvania Press, 216 pages, $34.95.
The town of Hershey, Pa. — founded in the early 20th century by Milton Hershey as part of the chocolate company that bears his name — manages to be somehow typically American and utterly unique. Now native son and Princeton-trained anthropologist Peter Kurie examines his community in “In Chocolate We Trust: The Hershey Company Town Unwrapped.”
Hershey started his company with the simple idea that chocolate could be manufactured cheaply and sold widely. A strict Mennonite, he shaped the town of Hershey, which included a school for the education of orphans, along vaguely communitarian lines, a conception that became central to Hershey’s mythology and appeal.
In Kurie’s telling, what makes the Hershey empire both so durable and so fraught are the unusual terms of Hershey’s trust. Hershey is a publicly traded corporation owned in perpetuity by a nonprofit trust. That unwieldy and deeply unorthodox arrangement contains a probably unsustainable legal contradiction.
Kurie’s book conveys the sense of an institution that is caught between eras: It cannot remain stuck in the sepia-toned twilight of its Christian-charity origins, but it remains stoutly resistant to corporate raiders.
“In Chocolate We Trust” tells a great story, although it sometimes feels like a good piece of long-form journalism straining to expand into a scholarly framework. And while Kurie’s conclusions about the company display measured good sense, less convincing is his attempt to frame Milton Hershey the man as being “as relevant as ever.”