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A History of the World in 6 Glasses Paperback – May 16, 2006
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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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.
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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
A History of the World in Six Glasses is much more than just a history of six beverages. It is history as it should be written (and taught).
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.
The era of beer is associated with the Agricultural Revolution and the growing importance of cereal grains. Geographically, the region of focus is the Fertile Crescent and Egypt. Among the more interesting points of discussion is the role of beer (along with the related commodities of cereal grains and bread) in the development of written language.
The era of wine is associated with the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome. Readers of the classics will be aware that wine was much celebrated among the Greeks and Romans, so much so that they developed gods of wine in their mythologies (Dionysus and Bacchus, respectively.) Of course, wine played no small role in Christian mythology as well--e.g. Jesus turns water to wine.
Spirits are related to the Colonial period, though they were first developed much earlier. The author emphasizes that these were the first global drinks. While beer and wine were robust to going bad, they could spoil in the course of long sea voyages.
Alcohol of all kinds has always attracted opposition. This conflict, of course, owes to the fact that people under the influence of alcohol frequently act like idiots. One might expect that the transition to discussion of non-alcoholic beverages would correspond to the end of controversy, but that’s not the case. Each of the beverages brought controversy in its wake. There were attempts to ban coffee in the Islamic world where its stimulative effect was conflated with intoxication. Coca-Cola became associated with capitalism and American influence, and drew its own opposition because of it. It seems there’s no escape from controversy for a good beverage.
The most fascinating discussion of coffee had to do with the role of cafés as corollaries to the internet. Centuries before computers or the internet as we know it, people went to cafés to find out stock values and commodity prices, to discuss scholarly ideas, and to find out which ships had come and gone from port.
The role of tea in world history is readily apparent. Besides the aforementioned Boston Tea Party, there were the Opium Wars. This conflict resulted from the fact that the British were racking up a huge tea bill, but the Chinese had minimal wants for European goods. Because the British (through the East India Company) didn’t want to draw down gold and silver reserves, they came up with an elaborate plan to sell prohibited opium in China in order to earn funds to pay their tea bill. Ultimately, Britain’s tea addiction led to the growing of tea in India to make an end-run around the volatile relations with China.
The book lays out the history of Coca-Cola’s development before getting into its profound effect on international affairs. A large part of this history deals with the Cold War years. While Coca-Cola was developed in the late 19th century, it was really the latter half of the 20th century when Coke spread around the world—traveling at first with US troops. The most interesting thing that I learned was that General Zhukov (a major Soviet figure in the winning of World War II) convinced the US Government to get Coca-Cola incorporated to make him some clear Coca-Cola so that he could enjoy the beverage without the heart-burn of being seen as publicly supporting an American entity (i.e. it would look like he was drinking his vodka, like a good Russian should.) General Zhukov was perhaps the only person to stand in opposition to Stalin and live (the General was just too much of a national hero to screw with.)
There’s also an interesting story about how the cola wars played out in the Middle East. Both Coke and Pepsi wanting access to the large Arab market, and were willing to forego the small Israeli market to pave the way for that access. When Coke finally had to relent due to public outrage and accusations of anti-Semitic behavior, Pepsi slid in and followed Coca-Cola’s policy of snubbing Israel in favor of the Arab world.
I enjoyed this book, and think that any history buff will as well. One doesn’t have to have a particular interest in food and beverage history to be intrigued by stories contained in this book.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Recommend the book and hope you enjoy it.