- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Walker Publishing Company; 5333rd edition (May 16, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0802715524
- ISBN-13: 978-0802715524
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 646 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,333 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A History of the World in 6 Glasses Paperback – May 16, 2006
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“[A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 6 GLASSES] is loaded with the kind of data that get talked about at the figurative water cooler...Incisive, illuminating and swift.” ―Janet Maslin, The New York Times
About the Author
Tom Standage is technology editor at The Economist magazine and the author of four history books, "A History of the World in Six Glasses" (2005), "The Turk" (2002), "The Neptune File" (2000) and "The Victorian Internet" (1998). He holds a degree in engineering and computer science from Oxford University, and is the least musical member of a musical family. He is married and lives in Greenwich, London, with his wife and daughter.
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I have read a decent number of books about food and drink, but what sets this book apart for me is how it embeds itself into a historical context. Maybe it's just that I didn't take enough history classes in high school, but this book actually made me very interested in knowing about the history of the Persian empire, the various revolutions and monarchies in France. Did I learn how to make a great cappuccino or brew my own beer? Nope, but this is not a recipe book.
Just to re-emphasize, I really dig how the book basically spans the entirety of human history from the dawn of civilization to modern day and beyond. The writing style is also interesting, entertaining, and at the same time historical/scientific. I'll have to check out his "Edible Hisstory of Humanity" next.
"A History of the World in 6 Glasses" is a view of the history of the world through the lens of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. Science correspondent and accomplished author Tom Standage has come up with a clever book that shows how the aforementioned drinks were reflections of the eras in which they were created. This 311-page book is broken out by the six drinks (two chapters per drink): Beer in Mesopotamia and Egypt, Wine in Greece and Rome, Spirits in the Colonial Period, Coffee in the Age of Reason, Tea and the British Empire and Coca-Cola and the Rise of America.
1. A fun way to learn about history.
2. A well-written and well researched book. Reads like a novel.
3. A fascinating topic. The author cleverly charts the flow of history through six beverages: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola.
4. Every beverage has a story and the author does a good job of relaying it.
5. Great use of basic science to explain how the beverages were discovered.
6. Interesting tidbits throughout the book. This is the greatest strength of this book. Some of the stories will definitely stick with you.
7. Interesting perspective on beer, "it seems most likely that beer drinking was just one of the many factors that helped to tip the balance away from hunting and gathering and toward farming and a sedentary lifestyle based on small settlements".
8. Guaranteed to learn something amusing, spoiler alert..."The workers who built the pyramids were paid in beer..."
9. I love the stories of how mythology and beverages intertwine, "According to one legend, Dionysus, the god of wine, fled to Greece to escape beer-loving Mesopotamia".
10. The philosophy of drinking wine.
11. What wine represented to the Romans. Once again, some amusing stories, a recurring theme of this book.
12. The relationship between some of these beverages to medicine/health.
13. The relationship between the beverages and religion. Amazing...
14. The invention of distillation.
15. Interesting stories of how some of these beverages were used as a form of currency.
16. The evil trade of slavery and how alcohol was related. Enlightening information.
17. Find out what truly was the decisive factor in the Royal Navy's victory over the French and Spanish fleets.
18. The impact of rum for the North American colonists. Everything to do with American history and its relation to alcohol was fascinating. Colonialism by the bottles.
19. The second half of the book dealing with caffeinated drinks was superior to the first half.
20. The diffusion of rationalism and the relationship to coffee. Great stuff.
21. The history of coffeehouses. The drink of intellectuals. Great stories.
22. Each chapter opens up with a quote, "Better to be deprived of food for three days than of tea for one". Chinese proverb.
23. China, England and it's a tea thing. Fascinating history.
24. The fascinating history of tea. Very popular with women, who had been excluded from coffeehouses.
25. My favorite chapters in the book had to do with Coca Cola.
26. Coca Cola and lawsuits. "Wiley put Coca-Cola on trial in 1911, in a federal case titled the United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola. In court, religious fundamentalists railed against the evils of Coca Cola, blaming its caffeine content for promoting sexual transgressions..." I live for tidbits like this.
27. Coca Cola the global icon.
28. The epilogue provides the impact of water.
29. A cool appendix on ancient drinks.
30. Notes and sources.
1. As much fun as the book was to read, the quality wasn't consistent throughout. To illustrate my point, I felt that the chapters on caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea and coca-cola) were superior to the ones pertaining to the alcoholic beverages (beer, wine and spirits).
2. In desperate need of a timeline chart. The author has a tendency of going back and forth in time which may cause the reader to lose their point of reference a timeline chart describing the main milestones of a given beverage would have certainly helped.
3. The lack of charts and diagrams that would have aided the reader in understanding the full impact of the beverages involved. As an example, consumption of a given drink by country...
4. A bit repetitive at times. Sometimes the author has a tendency to overstay his welcome with some tidbits...
5. The history that is here is really simplified. This book is more an entertaining look at the impact and influence the beverages had in the context of the societies in which they were consumed. That being said, don't underestimate what is here.
6. The Kindle version of the book garbled up some words.
7. Links not included for Kindle.
In summary, I enjoyed reading "A History of the World in 6 Glasses". It's a fun and at times enlightening read. Cocktails will never be the same, now that I have added to my repertoire thanks in large part to all the fun facts that I picked up from this book. That being said, the danger with a book like this is that it is too general for history buffs and it may not be interesting enough early on to keep the casual reader engaged. So as long as you are not expecting an in-depth history lesson and have a little patience with the drier sections of this book, it will go down smoothly and ultimately lead to a satisfying experience. I recommend it.
Beer - probably the oldest known drink, popular in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Likely made/discovered by accident, at some unknown time far in the distant past. One of the main benefits it had on society was that you must boil water to make it. This had the affect of water purification and a decrease in waterborne illness. Interesting notes about how it was used as currency and given as rations to soldiers and slaves.
Wine - Our next step in history (Western, at least) is to move north to Greece and then Rome. Wine was viewed as the sophisticated drink and being a wine civilized, educated and wealthy (the more things change...). The sections about the drinking parties are fascinating, with all the ritual and impact on democracy they had. Tangentially related, I grew up in a church that served grape juice for the Lord's Supper. People would argue that we should have wine, as Jesus turned water into wine, etc. but the common retort was well, wine was weaker then. Turns out, this is actually kind of true. It was made the same as today, but watered down. It was considered crass to drink wine straight. Who knew? I assumed they were just pulling something out of their asses, on the other hand, they could have just watered it down, but I digress.
Spirits- specifically whisky and rum, my personal favorites, though there is also gin and brandy that play a major role. This is the era of exploration and colonization. Beer & wine were expensive to ship and didn't always keep on the voyage across the Atlantic. Distilled spirits would, and quickly replaced beer as the rations for soldiers. Incidentally, to flavor the harsh drinks, they'd add lime juice, which would help prevent scurvy. He also goes into detail about the triangle of slave trade where slaves would be taken to the islands where they'd be traded for sugar, sugar was then taken to Boston to produce rum, the rum was then traded to Africans for more slaves. And of course, the Whisky Rebellion - the first major attempt to raises taxes in America and one of the first violent threat from within, all due to homemade whisky.
Coffee - The age of reason and the enlightenment. This was definitely my favorite chapter. If you are not familiar with the impact that coffee had on the move to the industrial revolution, the book is worth the cost for this chapter alone. Basically, we'd all walk around half drunk all day. People often had beer (weak, but still) for breakfast because it was safer than water. Your precision in operating machinery or your output at a factory is greatly diminished when you've been drinking. Once you are caffeinated, however, then you are alert, focused, and ready to go. Also, the interesting impact on enlightenment and revolutions, as discussion moved from pubs and taverns to coffee houses.
Tea - Mostly focused on the British empire, there is still a cool history behind tea in the East that he dives in to. Some of the more interesting things to come out of this history is the impact of people working out of Tea Shops. People would often use the place for meetings and have mail sent there. Because the shops were located near places of work, there would often be a certain industry focus. Proprietors would put shipping information or stock prices on boards. Manuscripts were circulated and critiqued. Lloyd's of London and the London Stock Exchange both started as or at tea shops. Twining's, The Wife's favorite, started almost 400 years ago and may be the oldest official logo still in use. Speaking of women, unlike coffee shops, they were allowed in tea shops which had some interesting impacts, such as the little boxes, sometimes with locks, that teas are still kept in today.
Coco-Cola - or Coke here in the South. This chapter follows the rise of America and The American Century; also 'Murica, to a lesser extent. The history is kind of crazy, to think about the number of people running around selling random drinks that are dangerous for you, even though they make wild health benefit claims. Then again, this is still happening, and is completely unregulated,(so, again, the more things change...). Overall fairly interesting, but probably more known by most people (at least Americans) but some great and funny anecdotes. Such as the Russian general who couldn't been seen drinking Coke, even though he loved it, because it was associated with capitalism. So, Coke hooks him up and make clear Coke, puts it in a different bottle to look like vodka and sends it to him. Interesting stuff about Coke embodying capitalist ideals to many communist countries.
Overall, definitely worth picking up somewhere. Very well written and interesting book, especially if you are a big history nerd.