From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Standage starts with a bold hypothesis—that each epoch, from the Stone Age to the present, has had its signature beverage—and takes readers on an extraordinary trip through world history. The Economist's technology editor has the ability to connect the smallest detail to the big picture and a knack for summarizing vast concepts in a few sentences. He explains how, when humans shifted from hunting and gathering to farming, they saved surplus grain, which sometimes fermented into beer. The Greeks took grapes and made wine, later borrowed by the Romans and the Christians. Arabic scientists experimented with distillation and produced spirits, the ideal drink for long voyages of exploration. Coffee also spread quickly from Arabia to Europe, becoming the "intellectual counterpoint to the geographical expansion of the Age of Exploration." European coffee-houses, which functioned as "the Internet of the Age of Reason," facilitated scientific, financial and industrial cross-fertilization. In the British industrial revolution that followed, tea "was the lubricant that kept the factories running smoothly." Finally, the rise of American capitalism is mirrored in the history of Coca-Cola, which started as a more or less handmade medicinal drink but morphed into a mass-produced global commodity over the course of the 20th century. In and around these grand ideas, Standage tucks some wonderful tidbits—on the antibacterial qualities of tea, Mecca's coffee trials in 1511, Visigoth penalties for destroying vineyards—ending with a delightful appendix suggesting ways readers can sample ancient beverages. 24 b&w illus.
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Historian Standage explores the significant role that six beverages have played in the world's history. Few realize the prominence of beer in ancient Egypt, but it was crucial to both cultural and religious life throughout the Fertile Crescent, appearing even in the Gilgamesh epic. Wine's history has been recounted in many places, and its use to avoid often--polluted water supplies made it ubiquitous wherever grapes could be easily cultivated. Spirits, first manufactured by Arabs and later rejected by them with the rise of Islam, played a fundamental role in the ascendance of the British navy. As a stimulant, coffee found no hostility within Islam's tenets, and its use spread as the faith moved out of Arabia into Asia and Europe. Tea enjoyed similar status, and it bound China and India to the West. Cola drinks, a modern American phenomenon, relied on American mass-marketing skills to achieve dominance. An appendix gives some modern sources for some of the primitive beers and wines described in the text. Mark Knoblauch
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