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Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture Paperback – January 22, 2007

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Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture + Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages
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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2004 Organisation Internationale de la Vigne et du Vin Grand Prize, History, Literature and Fine Arts Category

Winner of the 2004 Research Prize, Asociación Internacional de Historia y Civilización de la Vid y el Vino

Honorable Mention for the 2003 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Geology and Earth Sciences Professional/Scholarly Award, Association of American Publishers

"A remarkable new book."--Adam Gopnik, New Yorker

"No one is better qualified to sift through the widely scattered clues [to the origins of winemaking] than McGovern, a skilled scientific sleuth who wields the most powerful tools of modern chemistry in his search for the roots of ancient wines."--J. Madeleine Nash, Time Magazine

"A rich treasury of lore on viticulture. . . . McGovern's book will likely remain a standard in every serious wine-lover's library for a long time. To that achievement--and to glorious wine itself--let us raise our glasses high."--Laurence A. Marschall, Natural History

"It takes nerve to tackle a subject as wide-ranging in chronology, geography and historical variability as the study of ancient viniculture, and it takes rhetorical flourish to make such a study riveting, informative and thought-provoking. Patrick McGovern has succeeded in doing just that. His Ancient Wine is a book to be highly recommended to lay and professional audiences alike."--James C. Wright, American Scientist

"It's obvious that McGovern has a passion for his research, and that his deep appreciation for wine is enhanced by his understanding of wine's role in civilization. Wine lovers who also enjoy delving into wine's rich history will find much to savor in this complex but intriguing book."--Deborah Scoblionkov, Philadelphia Inquirer

"The most fascinating scholarly wine book this year. . . . This is a tapestry woven from surviving cultural fragments and combines art, archeology, chemistry and gastronomy. It tracks the thread of wine through 8,000 years of human history and is not for the faint-hearted."--Toronto Star

"This is a prodigiously learned book by a prodigiously learned man. . . . McGovern uses wine as a vehicle for exploring the reaches of ancient history, and for presenting some of the astonishing archeological discoveries that are still being made. . . . By the time we get to Persia, Greece and Rome it has become truly urgent, because it is now a story of civilizations and their clashes--the story in which we are still involved."--Roger Scruton, New Statesman

"This book is clearly written, generously illustrated, and thoroughly indexed."--Harvey Finkel, New England Wine Gazette

"Princeton University Press has published the definitive book on grape and wine history. Ancient Wine by Patrick E. McGovern is history writing at its best. Thoroughly engaging, this is beautifully illustrated with photos of historical artifacts."--Connie Krochmal, BellaOnline

"[W]ine lovers who want to discover more of the origins of their favourite drop will find Ancient Wine of great value and interest."--Louise Johnson, Heritage Key

"Mr. McGovern is an exceptional scholar who employs a lively narrative and the latest techniques in scientific archaeology and historiography to help the contemporary reader peer into the most remote corners of early man's agricultural and ritual past. What we learn there is simply riveting. And while the book was first published in 2003, it remains a brilliant and at times prescient work which no civilised amateur of fine wines or modern wine cultures should be without."--Joseph Romero, Culturekiosque

"Excellent maps and illustrations, many in full color, enrich the presentation. . . . The price of the new paperbound edition is reasonable, even astonishing given the color plates, and should make it so much the easier for those interested in ancient history, in wine, or in both to acquire and savor it."--Victor Castellani, European Legacy

From the Back Cover

"I raise my glass to Patrick McGovern, who mixes authoritative knowledge of ancient viniculture with inspired writing into a heady drink for the mind. This is a beautifully written book, full of insight into the origins, culture, and economy of wine."--Roald Hoffmann, Cornell University, 1981 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry

"Patrick McGovern serves us a magnificent feast of science and history that melds sophisticated chemistry with good, old-fashioned historical sleuthing. His innovative research has revolutionized our knowledge of the origins of one of humanity's greatest pleasures. This is an archaeological and gustatory delight for specialist and general reader alike."--Brian Fagan, University of California, Santa Barbara, author of The Little Ice Age

"Ancient Wine tells a dramatic, factual story of wine's beginnings at the dawn of civilization 8,000 years ago, bringing to life what I have long believed-wine has been an essential part of the gracious way of life for many cultures. Patrick McGovern takes us on a fascinating journey back to the first experiments in making this marvelous beverage. He shows the central role of wine in human history, with insights drawn from archeology, chemistry, gastronomy, and the arts. Ancient Wine will please everyone who enjoys wine. I heartily recommend it."--Robert Mondavi, winemaker

"What a great book! Patrick McGovern takes us along for the ride as he searches for the origins of modern wine. This is a very personal, engagingly written story, and we're privileged to watch over McGovern's shoulder as he unravels the mysteries of ancient vines and wines."--Rod Phillips, author of A Short History of Wine

"Told with enthusiasm and verve, Ancient Wine is an illuminating discussion of an important area of research. It represents a substantial contribution to our understanding of the nature of consumption in early urban societies, and draws together investigations of some of the outstanding pieces of evidence that are of prime relevance to the story."--Andrew Sherratt, author of Economy and Society in Prehistoric Europe

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 22, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691127840
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691127842
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #350,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By D. Tesic on July 31, 2007
I cannot remember holding a book in my hands that caused me more excitement and enchantment any time recently. And the best thing of all is that it is not a fairy tale, not even a "romanticized" account of the ancient history of wine; on the contrary, with all the diligence and impartiality of a good CSI detective, this book sticks to evidence and confirmed facts. Still, it manages to weave a compelling story of how wine was intricately connected with the very origins of civilization (or, should I say, civilizations). The book is not only difficult to put down, but as a viticulture and wine educator I find it impossible to ignore when preparing teaching materials. Granted, there is still a lot of uncertainty about certain wine archaeological issues and much more work to be done, but I find that part probably the most exciting. I recommend this book to the viticulture and wine professional and enthusiast alike, as well as anybody interested in archaeology and origins of civilizations.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Michael A. Rinella on January 24, 2008
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Pardon my title; this is an amazing book. Essential for anyone interested in wine history. There was the occasional repetition of certain sentences and phrases that an editor ought to have caught (I'm an editor, I notice these things) but in a nutshell the approach the author uses - "molecular archaeology" - is truly revolutionary. What I like best is that he has confirmed, once and for all, that ancient wines were distinctly different from modern wine, most importantly in the sense that they were infused with a wide variety of substances such as resins, plant matter, spices, and the like. This confirms the textual accounts that have survived, but have largely been ignored or marginalized in a number of fields.

A minor quibble: the author is surprisingly skittish on the matter of the potion of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the "kykeon." On the one hand he appears to accept the argument made in the Road to Eleusis that the "kykeon" was an intoxicant (the work is not however mentioned in his sources). On the other hand he appears to hint on more than on occasion that he believes the Eleusinian kykeon was a "grog" of the sort mentioned in epic poetry. This is unpersuasive; grogs do not produce sublime visions, and the ingredients of the Eleusinian kykeon were water, mint, and barley. No wine was present during initiation into the Greater Mysteries, nor would one expect it given that Demeter refuses wine in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By E. Herrmann on October 13, 2008
Patrick McGovern's distinctly archaeological analysis of wine in prehistory documents the remarkable saga of human manipulation of the fermentation process. This book chronicles the evidence of 9,000 years of production not only of wine, but of beer, mead, grog (a delightful mixture of fermented fruit, barley or rice, and honey) and various assorted fruit wines and barley and rice beers. As a professor of archaeology specializing in the art of ancient viniculture at the University of Pennsylvania, McGovern is in a unique position to describe the history of wine-making as it relates to the development of human culture.McGovern outlines how the coalescence of environmental conditions and human technological advancements paved the way for the growing importance of fermentation in early societies. Anyone interested in the historical development of wine-making or the role of fermented beverages in prehistory will certainly be educated and entertained by this book.
Societies as diverse as the Egyptians,Greeks, the Sumerians and the Vikings had Gods who oversaw the production of fermented drinks, indicating that the religious significance of alcohol production and consumption is a common cross-cultural thread in the history of fermentation. Using religious, feasting, drinking and alcohol production evidence from the archaeological record as social indicators of alcohol consumption, McGovern blends modern scientific advances with old-fashioned archaeology to describe how he was able to isolate the evidence of fermentation from ancient residues clinging to the internal surfaces of pottery vessels. The descriptive process of recovering, analyzing and interpreting data is the source of McGovern's potency as a writer.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Claret on December 30, 2011
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I only wish my writing skills were up to the task of remarking on how compelling this book was, but I'll do my best. While quite technical [from a complete layman's point of view] 'Ancient Wines' was at the same time engaging, entertaining and read like a good detective story. The author uses his scientific expertise to break down the vast histories and technical gobble-dee-gook into small, easily digestible pieces. His background puts him at the leading edge of this field and he presents material that may be new even to professionals. If you're interested in the history of wine at all, this book won't disappoint. It's one of those rare books that, even if you don't finish, you'll have gotten your moneys worth by the time you get through the first few chapters, [and in the interest of modesty I won't even mention how you can one-up that idiot that thinks he knows everything there is to know about wine, ha]. Really, I had my doubts about buying this book, and in the end found that I just couldn't put it down.
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