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Pendergrast was born in 1948 to Nan and Britt Pendergrast, the fourth of seven children. He was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Harvard College, after which he taught for several years in public schools. Pendergrast later attended Simmons College in Boston, where he obtained a Master of Arts degree in Library Science. He worked as an academic librarian and freelance writer until becoming a full-time writer in 1991. Pendergrast lives in Essex Junction, Vermont.
Pendergrast has published five books on various topics. Two are histories of caffeinated beverages (Coca-Cola and coffee). His latest (2010) non-fiction book is a history of the Epidemic Intelligence Service.
Pendergrast has also reviewed books for The Philadelphia Inquirer and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has contributed articles to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Financial Analyst, The Sun, Vermont Life Magazine, Sea History, Library Journal, and Professional Psychology.
Pendergrast co-edited The Aftermath: A Survivor's Odyssey Through War-Torn Europe, a Holocaust memoir by Henry Lilienheim. He has spoken at scientific and journalism seminars and on college campuses. He writes a regular column about coffee for the Wine Spectator.
Pendergrast is a member of the National Association of Science Writers, the Society of Environmental Journalists, and the League of Vermont Writers. He is a member of the governing board of the National Center for Reason and Justice, a nonprofit organization which works with innocent people falsely accused or convicted of child abuse (related to the subject of his book Victims of Memory). That book's introduction states that Pendergrast is a member of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, which provides information for "distraught accused parents, mental health professionals, and all those caught up in the repressed-memory phenomenon."
- Pendergrast M (2003). Mirror Mirror: a history of the human love affair with reflection. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-05470-6.
- Pendergrast M (1999). Uncommon grounds: the history of coffee and how it transformed our world. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-05467-6.
- Pendergrast M (1996). Victims of memory: sex abuse accusations and shattered lives (2nd ed.). Upper Access. ISBN 0-942679-18-0.
- Pendergrast M (2000). For God, country, and Coca-Cola: the definitive history of the great American soft drink and the company that makes it (2nd ed.). Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-05468-4.
- Pendergrast M (2010). Inside the Outbreaks: Elite Medical Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-15-101120-9.
Public reception of published work
Pendergrast's non-fiction books have received generally positive reviews in the press.
- Recovered memory therapy
- False memory syndrome
- False memories
- Day care sex abuse hysteria
- Covert incest