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A History of the World in 6 Glasses

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Throughout human history, certain drinks have done much more than just quench thirst. As Tom Standage relates with authority and charm, six of them have had a surprisingly pervasive influence on the course of history, becoming the defining drink during a pivotal historical period. A History of the World in 6 Glasses tells the story of humanity from the Stone Age to the 21s Throughout human history, certain drinks have done much more than just quench thirst. As Tom Standage relates with authority and charm, six of them have had a surprisingly pervasive influence on the course of history, becoming the defining drink during a pivotal historical period. A History of the World in 6 Glasses tells the story of humanity from the Stone Age to the 21st century through the lens of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. Beer was first made in the Fertile Crescent and by 3000 B.C.E. was so important to Mesopotamia and Egypt that it was used to pay wages. In ancient Greece wine became the main export of her vast seaborne trade, helping spread Greek culture abroad. Spirits such as brandy and rum fueled the Age of Exploration, fortifying seamen on long voyages and oiling the pernicious slave trade. Although coffee originated in the Arab world, it stoked revolutionary thought in Europe during the Age of Reason, when coffeehouses became centers of intellectual exchange. And hundreds of years after the Chinese began drinking tea, it became especially popular in Britain, with far-reaching effects on British foreign policy. Finally, though carbonated drinks were invented in 18th-century Europe they became a 20th-century phenomenon, and Coca-Cola in particular is the leading symbol of globalization. For Tom Standage, each drink is a kind of technology, a catalyst for advancing culture by which he demonstrates the intricate interplay of different civilizations. You may never look at your favorite drink the same way again.


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Throughout human history, certain drinks have done much more than just quench thirst. As Tom Standage relates with authority and charm, six of them have had a surprisingly pervasive influence on the course of history, becoming the defining drink during a pivotal historical period. A History of the World in 6 Glasses tells the story of humanity from the Stone Age to the 21s Throughout human history, certain drinks have done much more than just quench thirst. As Tom Standage relates with authority and charm, six of them have had a surprisingly pervasive influence on the course of history, becoming the defining drink during a pivotal historical period. A History of the World in 6 Glasses tells the story of humanity from the Stone Age to the 21st century through the lens of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. Beer was first made in the Fertile Crescent and by 3000 B.C.E. was so important to Mesopotamia and Egypt that it was used to pay wages. In ancient Greece wine became the main export of her vast seaborne trade, helping spread Greek culture abroad. Spirits such as brandy and rum fueled the Age of Exploration, fortifying seamen on long voyages and oiling the pernicious slave trade. Although coffee originated in the Arab world, it stoked revolutionary thought in Europe during the Age of Reason, when coffeehouses became centers of intellectual exchange. And hundreds of years after the Chinese began drinking tea, it became especially popular in Britain, with far-reaching effects on British foreign policy. Finally, though carbonated drinks were invented in 18th-century Europe they became a 20th-century phenomenon, and Coca-Cola in particular is the leading symbol of globalization. For Tom Standage, each drink is a kind of technology, a catalyst for advancing culture by which he demonstrates the intricate interplay of different civilizations. You may never look at your favorite drink the same way again.

30 review for A History of the World in 6 Glasses

  1. 5 out of 5

    Max

    First off, let me just say that if the concept of this book interests you, by all means you should read it. It's light and breezy, and you stand to lose very little by taking the time. However, I have to say that my feelings about this book are very conflicted. In terms of quality, the book is clearly delineated into two halves: the half discussing alcoholic drinks, and the half discussing caffeinated drinks. Throughout the first portion of the book, which focuses on beer, wine, and spirits, I w First off, let me just say that if the concept of this book interests you, by all means you should read it. It's light and breezy, and you stand to lose very little by taking the time. However, I have to say that my feelings about this book are very conflicted. In terms of quality, the book is clearly delineated into two halves: the half discussing alcoholic drinks, and the half discussing caffeinated drinks. Throughout the first portion of the book, which focuses on beer, wine, and spirits, I was a bit bored, and found myself becoming frustrated at how repetitive Standage's writing could be. It seemed like there just wasn't enough substance to back up Standage's claims of how dramatically these beverages had impacted human history, and the facts and arguments he did provide were often repeated in subtly different ways throughout a given section. I was still interested in the material of this half of the book, I just didn't find it particularly compelling. The second half, by contrast, really delivered on the promise of the book's thesis, and it's pretty obvious why. Standage is an editor for The Economist, and it's clear reading this book that economics is what he feels most comfortable writing about. His discussions of the impacts of the British tea trade, in particular, were extremely interesting. Indeed, Standage finds it difficult to conceal his British biases, as the most in-depth and interesting parts of this book exclusively discuss British culture. The only thing that detracted from my enjoyment of the second half of this book was the way that Standage's own personal socioeconomic views seeped into the section on Coca-Cola, so that by the end it started reading like a pro-free-trade pamphlet. It's nothing that some good editing couldn't have fixed, and it left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth (ha, ha) as I finished the book. Still, overall, well worth the read, and it's certainly made me curious about a lot of aspects of history that I'd never even contemplated before.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Christian Kitchen

    Whoever the marketing guy was behind Erik Larson's "The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America," he was a genius. Because honestly, I don't really want to read a 447 page history of the Chicago World's Fair--and I'm guessing, neither do you. But, if you were hoodwinked into believing (as I was) that Larson's opus was an inspired bit of comparison between the architect of the 1893 World's Fair and a diabolically brilliant psychopath and kept reading b Whoever the marketing guy was behind Erik Larson's "The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America," he was a genius. Because honestly, I don't really want to read a 447 page history of the Chicago World's Fair--and I'm guessing, neither do you. But, if you were hoodwinked into believing (as I was) that Larson's opus was an inspired bit of comparison between the architect of the 1893 World's Fair and a diabolically brilliant psychopath and kept reading because you were waiting for the numerous opportunities Larson had to make this happen and then realized somewhere about two-thirds of the way through that he had perhaps added the bit about the serial killer because he realized that no one would probably read the book if it didn't have some sort of hook and then you noticed that Larson sort of pulled it off anyway and (just bear with me one more moment here) you realized years later that the passages you most remember in the book were these tremendously well crafted passages about the World's Fair itself juxtaposed with a noirish filth ridden Chicago, you might, like I did tonight, come to forgive the misrepresentation and accept the book as a rather brilliant historical narrative. So, thanks guy who wrote the jacket copy for Larson because you totally made me read the book and just like I lie to my son and tell him that spinach is pesto because he'll eat pesto, you lied to me and I was the better for it. As for you Tom Standage, or whoever allowed you to waste as brilliant an idea as this, fuck you, and I think you need to take the excellent idea that could have been this book and put it back in the pool because you straight messed it up. Seriously, I want a full rewrite with a different author because I don't know how you take so tremendously focused an idea as tracing world civilization through its dominant beverages (beverages mind you that I have a close and deeply personal relationship with) and turn it into the kind of prose that I'm more familiar with from middle school history textbooks. You offered me a nicely aged single malt but what I got was a half pint of Borden chocolate milk with the seam that smells like the lunch lady. That said--for keeping it brief and managing to remind me how good historical nonfiction can be when written by other authors--I applaud you. (1.5/5)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Casey

    This book should really be called "A History of the Western World in 6 Glasses," as it doesn't consider the drinks of South America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, and much of Asia. Indeed, tea is considered only through the lens of the British empire, even though the formal Japanese tea service is arguably more interesting than a British tea party. Even as a Western history, it kind of fails, as there's a large gap between wine production in the Roman empire and the distillation of rum in Barbado This book should really be called "A History of the Western World in 6 Glasses," as it doesn't consider the drinks of South America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, and much of Asia. Indeed, tea is considered only through the lens of the British empire, even though the formal Japanese tea service is arguably more interesting than a British tea party. Even as a Western history, it kind of fails, as there's a large gap between wine production in the Roman empire and the distillation of rum in Barbados. This can only be viewed as a surface history of the world, but as far as surface stories go, it's pretty interesting. Throughout the book, Standage tells the history of six beverages (beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola) as they appeared in the historical record. This is actually not so great, as the book ends up talking about beer without ever mentioning Germany, and wine without ever mentioning France or California. Instead of bringing it all back together in the epilogue, he just rambles on about bottled water and (randomly) colonizing Mars. The book also contains a shockingly uncritical depiction of the Coca-Cola company, which creatives a "beverage" that can best be described as a noxious substance that no one should be consuming, especially not on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the health effects of soda are not discussed. I'd recommend A History of the World in 6 Glasses only to those interested in culinary history and esoterica. History buffs and general readers should skip this one.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Margitte

    I noticed this book on a few friend's 'to-read' lists and thought I should write a review on it since I have read it a few years back and it is still very much part of our family's proud ...intellectual history...8-) We do not realize how necessary fluids are for our survival. As Tom Standage states, we can live without food for quite a while, but will die very soon of fluid deprivation. In fact, aren't we looking for water on Mars before we migrate there? :-)) Initially I did not plan to buy thi I noticed this book on a few friend's 'to-read' lists and thought I should write a review on it since I have read it a few years back and it is still very much part of our family's proud ...intellectual history...8-) We do not realize how necessary fluids are for our survival. As Tom Standage states, we can live without food for quite a while, but will die very soon of fluid deprivation. In fact, aren't we looking for water on Mars before we migrate there? :-)) Initially I did not plan to buy this book. I was trying to find "The Devil's Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee" by Stewart Lee Allen. Tom Standage divided the history of the world into six periods, each forming a different chapter in the book: 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; Coca-Cola and the Rise of America. Three are alcohol beverages and three caffeine. The idea for the book came to Tom Standage 'while reading an article in my Sunday newspaper about a wine said to have been one of Napoleon's favourites during exile: Vin de Constance. It is a sweet wine, made in the Constantia region of South Africa, which was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. In Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, the heroine is advised to drink it because of it's 'healing powers on a disappointed heart'. Charles Dickens also mentions the wine, referring in The Mystery of Edwin Drood to 'the support embodied in a glass of Constantia and a home-made biscuit'." There is perhaps a more subtle, unintentional, humor buried in the amazing facts, and the reader needs to concentrate. It can cramp the reader's style a bit on the think-tank. So much so that I personally often fell asleep and had to reread everything in a new session, which made it tedious in some instances. But the facts are worth learning! It certainly sheds a bright new light on world history. The book is so laden with information that I found it too much to absorb in one sitting. For instance: the ancient old tea culture of the Chinese which was only discovered hundreds of years later by the Brits, changed the latter's foreign policy forever; brandy and rum, developed from the Arabian knowledge of chemistry , inspired the age of Exploration; Greeks spread their influence through their exports of wine all over the world. The book encourage thought. Slavery, wars and sanctions were often fueled by some of these beverages. Reading it all in one book, from Tom Standage's perspective, turns these facts into eye-openers. For instance: P 80: "...herbs, honey and other additives were commonly added to lesser wines to conceal imperfections. Some Romans even carried herbs and other flavorings with them while traveling, to improve the taste of bad wine. While modern wine drinkers may turn op their noses at the Greek and Roman use of additives, it is not that different from the modern use of oak as flavoring agent, often to make otherwise unremarkable wines more palatable. Below these adulterated wines was posca, a drink made by mixing water with wine that had turned sour and vinegarlike. Posca was commonly issued to Roman soldiers when better wines were unavailable, for example,during long campaigns. It was, in effect, a form of portable water-purification technology for the Roman army. When a Roman soldier offered Jesus Christ a sponge dipped in wine during his crucifixion, the wine in question would have been posca."The location where you read the book does not matter. What is more important is that the information shared in the book ensures long relaxing discussion on a Sunday afternoon with friends and family. It gives some mundane moments the more meaningful memories it needs. I initially gave it three stars only because it was not an easy read. I really needed to keep all my ducks in a row for this one. But in retrospect I changed my mind. His research was excellent! It is a good read for someone who wants to know how the development of chemistry from ancient times until now changed our world - in an easy, non-scientific, but factual read. It is the only book I offer to guest to take to bed with them!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Stefan Burrell

    This book, I've read twice. It takes you from the formation of beer and society in Mesopotamia, to the use of wine as currency and how wine types represented a social classification system in Greece and Rome. It went through spirits and colonial time: We only have whiskey because it took too long to ship scotch and brandy by wagon out west, so we made corn whiskey. To how coffee was at first banned in Muslim society and called black wine - till they figured that it caused a different state of mi This book, I've read twice. It takes you from the formation of beer and society in Mesopotamia, to the use of wine as currency and how wine types represented a social classification system in Greece and Rome. It went through spirits and colonial time: We only have whiskey because it took too long to ship scotch and brandy by wagon out west, so we made corn whiskey. To how coffee was at first banned in Muslim society and called black wine - till they figured that it caused a different state of mind than actual alcohol. To the use of tea as a way to stay hydrated in England, the city was packed full and the water was not the cleanest. Once coffee arrived in England, there were coffee houses for men only because they were a place to smoke and talk politics while drinking coffee. Women in England had tea gardens, nice gardens where they could walk, talk or sit and drink tea. The book wrapped up in the time of just after WWII, granting Coca-Cola responsible as the first company to be globalized. The factories were built in American forts during the war so that the soldier could have coca-cola to drink, when WWII was over the factories remained. Then it dipped a bit to the Cold War as Coke played around with Invisible Coke and than landed at being Coca-Cola Classic, the original recipe minus the cocaine.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    An interesting way of breaking history up by beer, wine, whiskey, coffee, tea, & cola. Each came into its own in our history & may well have driven it in some ways. The basic idea along with a thumbnail of each is laid out in the introduction pretty well. Well enough that I didn't want to continue listening after about half the first section on beer. I didn't care much for the narrator & that wasn't helped by repetitious writing. This would probably be a great book to read, though. It An interesting way of breaking history up by beer, wine, whiskey, coffee, tea, & cola. Each came into its own in our history & may well have driven it in some ways. The basic idea along with a thumbnail of each is laid out in the introduction pretty well. Well enough that I didn't want to continue listening after about half the first section on beer. I didn't care much for the narrator & that wasn't helped by repetitious writing. This would probably be a great book to read, though. It's doubtful, but I might get back to it at some point.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alex Givant

    Excellent book about 6 drinks (beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Cola) that impacted live of mankind through different ages.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Xxertz

    It is funny how we prefer certain aspects of books. Another review here enjoyed the non-alcoholic drinks better than the alcoholic drinks due to the amount of history and economics it covered, but I found the alcohol drinks to be far more interesting, in depth, and entertaining. Overall, I liked this book and learned a lot about how these drinks affected trade and became popular worldwide.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Domenico

    I seem to be in a phase where I like books that show me the hidden life of the everyday things all around us, especially food and drink. A few years ago I read "Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany", by Bill Buford, which started me on this quest, which was followed by several more books, including "The Omnivore's Dilemma", by Michael Pollan. Most recently I read "The Search for God and Guinness", by Stephen I seem to be in a phase where I like books that show me the hidden life of the everyday things all around us, especially food and drink. A few years ago I read "Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany", by Bill Buford, which started me on this quest, which was followed by several more books, including "The Omnivore's Dilemma", by Michael Pollan. Most recently I read "The Search for God and Guinness", by Stephen Mansfield. Now, I've finished "A History of the World in 6 Glasses", by Tom Standage, which connects the span of human history to 6 different beverages that affected history culturally, politically, anthropologically, nutritionally, and economically. The six, in rough order of their era of greatest influence, are beer, wine, whiskey, coffee, tea, and cola. More broadly, you could have called the book "A History of the World in Two Brain-Altering Chemicals: Alcohol and Caffeine." It is a fascinating look at how these drinks sometimes have been responsible for pivotal moments in history, causing one civilization to rise and another to fall. While human affairs are much more complicated than one factor can explain, we can't deny that one of the reasons ancient tribes turned from peripatetic hunting-gathering to more stationary agriculture was the need to cultivate grains for beer, for instance. (Standage points out that of course the grains were also used for bread too, but bread and beer were nearly interchangeable in most places, two phases of cooking of the same product. Beer was "liquid bread" and bread was "solid beer.") Most the drinks had origins--or at least early primary uses--in religious rituals, especially beer, wine, coffee, and tea. Whiskey and cola, which were much more modern inventions were just consumer products. Eventually, all of them made the leap to common use. What made them significant was their eventual ubiquity, even if at first they were reserved to the elites. There were also some very interesting anecdotes, such as the story of how coffee came to Europe from the Middle East. Some theologians rejected it as a Muslim invention, thus of the devil, while others embraced. So a decision had to be made. Shortly before his death in 1605, Pope Clement VIII was asked to state the Catholic church's position on coffee. At the time, the drink was a novelty little known in Europe except among botanists and medical men, including those at the University of Padua, a leading center for medical research. Coffee's religious opponents argued that coffee was evil: They contended that since Muslims were unable to drink wine, the holy drink of Christians, the devil had punished them with coffee instead. But the pope had the final say. A Venetian merchant provided a small sample for inspection, and Clement decided to taste the new drink before making his decision. The story goes that he was so enchanted by its taste and aroma that he approved its consumption by Christians. Other sources claim he said: "This devil's drink is so delicious...we should cheat the devil by baptizing it." True or not, I will be sure to thank Pope Clement VIII and pray for him every day over my morning cup of joe. Another interesting tidbit concerned the importance of tea to the Industrial Revolution in Britain in the 18th and 19th century. As labor became less about individual craftsmen and more about unskilled workers who could maintain machines in monotonous repitition over long hours, tea and tea breaks helped them to remain alert and concentrate. Likewise, even as the factory workers were gathering together in closer working and living conditions, waterborne illnesses became almost extinct, not just due to the boiling of water for tea, but for the phenolic acids--the tannins--in the tea itself. Infants benefited too, since the antibacterial phenolics in tea pass easily into the breast milk of nursing mothers. This lowered infant mortality and provided a large labor pool just as the Industrial Revolution took hold. In fact, every one of the six drinks was considered for both their positive and negative effects on society. Coffee led to 16th-century coffeehouses that were the locus of the Scientific Revolution that led to the Enlightenment, democracy, free-market economics, and more. The Chinese stranglehold on tea production and insistence on Westerners buying it with silver, not trading it for Western goods, led to the creation of the opium trade from India that eventually destabilized China in the 19th century, which last through the 20th century until the rise of Communism. While these six beverages can't be said to have caused the most important and decisive moments of history, they often played significant roles in moments that caused the course of history to go in one direction and not the other. If not for the wine it exported, would Greece have risen to a great culture that brought us philosophy and so much else?Without tea or rum/whiskey, would Great Britain have become the empire on whose flag the sun never sets? Maybe, maybe in a different form or in a different time, but undoubtedly different. "A History of the World in Six Glasses" was a fun and quick read that makes me want to delve more into the various individual elements it presents. Which is the best kind of book, isn't it?

  10. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Peterson

    23 Feb 2015 - I read this book since my son recommended it to me, while he was reading it for his World History AP class this year. I see why he liked it and I generally did too. It is fun and breezy and covers some fascinating ground that is indeed important, and grossly undercovered in most books or courses in history. However, the book is a bit presumptuous in stating it is a “History of the World…” or that the six drinks have “defined humankind’s past.” Neither statement is totally true, exce 23 Feb 2015 - I read this book since my son recommended it to me, while he was reading it for his World History AP class this year. I see why he liked it and I generally did too. It is fun and breezy and covers some fascinating ground that is indeed important, and grossly undercovered in most books or courses in history. However, the book is a bit presumptuous in stating it is a “History of the World…” or that the six drinks have “defined humankind’s past.” Neither statement is totally true, except in a very loose way, but that should not stop one from reading it. While refreshingly more open to an objective view of history regarding capitalism, free markets and property rights, than many (most?) history books, the author still promoted some completely foolish ideas by giving them equal or more time vs. sound ideas and facts. The author needs to explore the idea that all these beverages are/were, in effect, private, not "public" or government created or owned. His epilogue could have been far more informed and informative on the subject of the modern situation of water issues. If he had explored the crucial nature of privatization in man's need for a quality beverage that does not poison him/her, is of reasonable expense and is available to but not wasted by virtually everyone. The definition of imperialism is likewise not one of the strong suits of the author. His never defining it clearly but none-the-less using its corrupted meaning by communist ideology was very unhelpful. He only tacitly used a definition that has twisted the word with pretzel logic to include non-coercive private firms' actions (but NOT include Soviet or other communist foreign aggression). That is worse than just sad. He is not as bad as many on this score, since he also made fun of the various communist groups' ridiculous attacks on Coca-Cola, much to the detriment of their comrade citizens in the various countries he names. But still, being muddled on this important concept has significant repercussions. There are other words, incidents, trends, etc. that the author could help the reader by not using, or at least defining carefully (‘consumerism,’ for one), but I just state again, the book has lots to recommend it and I enjoyed and learned a bunch from it overall. It is well written, fun and funny and I recommend it overall.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    6 Glasses zeroes in on six liquids--from beer in ancient Mesopotamia to wine and spirits to coffee and tea and finally to cola and the globalization of brands such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola--and targets each as being responsible (or at least culpable) for the shaping of cultures (quite likely), writing itself (quite possible), and industrialization (believable, especially in light of Coke). Each of the libations receives its proper dues. The organization of the book itself is very well done, and the 6 Glasses zeroes in on six liquids--from beer in ancient Mesopotamia to wine and spirits to coffee and tea and finally to cola and the globalization of brands such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola--and targets each as being responsible (or at least culpable) for the shaping of cultures (quite likely), writing itself (quite possible), and industrialization (believable, especially in light of Coke). Each of the libations receives its proper dues. The organization of the book itself is very well done, and the anecdotes and histories of each are engaging. The sad irony about 6 Glasses--and it's a rather important one--is that, for all its talk, the book is remarkably dry. Sure, Standage gets wittier than in the opening section on beer, and notably in the chapters on wine and cola, which seem his obvious liquids of choice, but this reader's reserves were nearly sapped after finishing the pages about beer. He does a bang-up job with his research and presentation in some parts of this book, frames his passages well, and, honestly, the pictures really do help. "Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever," Aristophanes reports to us as the section on wine commences. One wishes that Standage had called for just that. Perhaps it would have made for a more intriguing read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Starry

    I saw this in my sister's to-read list and, boy, am I glad! This was a really fun book to read. For me. It was not so fun for my husband, who was stuck sitting next to me and hearing, "Hey, listen to this --" and "Here's something interesting --". But now I'm done, so he can read all the little leftover bits where I managed to hold my tongue and let him enjoy his own book (which probably wasn't half so interesting). The book attempts to tell the history of the world using six beverages that illus I saw this in my sister's to-read list and, boy, am I glad! This was a really fun book to read. For me. It was not so fun for my husband, who was stuck sitting next to me and hearing, "Hey, listen to this --" and "Here's something interesting --". But now I'm done, so he can read all the little leftover bits where I managed to hold my tongue and let him enjoy his own book (which probably wasn't half so interesting). The book attempts to tell the history of the world using six beverages that illustrate the social and political doings of the day: beer (the cultivation of grains), wine (rise of Greek and Roman culture), distilled liquor (sea travel and colonialism), coffee (Age of Reason), tea (British Empire), and Coca-Cola (rise of capitalism, American power and influence). It's a clever way to tell a story. Although history is told from the typical Euro-centric viewpoint in this book, the beverages and their backstories have impressively global origins: coffee originally from Arabia, tea from Asia, the cocoa and kola from South America and Africa. And some of ingredients' stories, told partly and in passing, would also be very interesting on their own: sugarcane and chocolate, for instance.

  13. 5 out of 5

    SpookySoto

    This was a great book. If you're interested in history and beverages I highly recommend it to you. It explores world history from the point of view of the discovery and consumption of several key beverages: beer, wine, rum, coffee, tea and cola. I learned a lot. My favorite chapters were the ones about coffee. I recommend it, specially in audiobook format.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    Pop non-fiction with clever gimmick of six beverages to summarize world history. Plenty of interesting factoids. One problem is that the flip side of the cleverness of the gimmick is that all sorts of beverages are left out. The human consumption of animal milk, for example, is an interesting story with important implications but we don't learn about that. Another problem is that the research does not appear to be very deep and so some of the factoids don't seem to be true. For example, tea is c Pop non-fiction with clever gimmick of six beverages to summarize world history. Plenty of interesting factoids. One problem is that the flip side of the cleverness of the gimmick is that all sorts of beverages are left out. The human consumption of animal milk, for example, is an interesting story with important implications but we don't learn about that. Another problem is that the research does not appear to be very deep and so some of the factoids don't seem to be true. For example, tea is credited with protecting the English from bacterial disease around the time of the industrial revolution. But that is when mortality was the highest overall, and if one looks at specific outbreaks like the great cholera epidemic of John Snow fame, it was specifically the beer drinkers who were spared. It makes some theoretical sense that tea should be helpful but that's different from there being any actual evidence of that. The book edges beyond cocktail-party chatter to serious stuff at the end in a polemic about water.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Masoud

    It is a very informative, well-written book that could attract a wide range of readers who like the story of civilization and its heritages. The last clause of the book's epilogue was very interesting for me and give me a good mode after turning the last page of the book: "When you next raise some beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, or Coca-Cola to your lips, think about how it reached you across space and time, and remember that it contains more than mere alcohol or caffeine. There is history, t It is a very informative, well-written book that could attract a wide range of readers who like the story of civilization and its heritages. The last clause of the book's epilogue was very interesting for me and give me a good mode after turning the last page of the book: "When you next raise some beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, or Coca-Cola to your lips, think about how it reached you across space and time, and remember that it contains more than mere alcohol or caffeine. There is history, too, amid its swirling depths."

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    This was a lot of fun. Tom Standage is a writer for The Economist, and this book, A History of the World in 6 glasses, reads well. It takes you through 6 chapters dedicated to: beer, wine, distilled spirits, coffee, tea, and Coke. Beer was a big part of the development of domestication and agriculture, and he goes through how it probably developed and what customs still survive. Beer used to be drunk from one huge jar, and everyone would use a straw, so it was a very communal thing - one of the This was a lot of fun. Tom Standage is a writer for The Economist, and this book, A History of the World in 6 glasses, reads well. It takes you through 6 chapters dedicated to: beer, wine, distilled spirits, coffee, tea, and Coke. Beer was a big part of the development of domestication and agriculture, and he goes through how it probably developed and what customs still survive. Beer used to be drunk from one huge jar, and everyone would use a straw, so it was a very communal thing - one of the antecedents of the modern "cheers." Wine he takes through its discovery and the Greek and Roman preference for it. Did you know that "strong wine" for them was a mixture of 2 parts water to 1 part wine? Only insane cultures and Gods drank unadulterated wine without mixing a lot of water with it. The distilled spirits chapter followed the exploration of the world, sea voyages, and increasing international trade. Rum became a standard daily ration on British Navy vessels, and because they drank it with sugar and lime juice (called grog), sailors stopped getting scurvy. The French sailors, who still drank brandy every day, were more scurvy prone, and Standage attributes some of the Royal Navy's successes to the disappearance of scurvy. Coffee is important in terms of the Enlightenment and waking up a population that drank beer, wine, and liquor all the time (water was too unsanitary). Once coffee's popularity took hold, and people could drink something that didn't make them inebriated and actually gave them energy and focus, coffeehouses turned into meccas of discovery, discussion, business and science. Newton was inspired to invent calculus after a friend had made a bet at a coffee house about the elliptical orbits of planets. And the dubious story of Gabriel de Clieu is just funny, true or not: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabriel_... Tea was another import from Asia (coffee came from the Middle East) that caught on in Britain and followed the development of the colonial system. The British imported their tea from China, not knowing how it was harvested. Once they got their hands on some of the actual plants and began cultivation in India, the British East India Company became a very powerful entity in the region with armies, government-like powers, and a huge influence on Parliament. And Coke brings you to the present, where corporations, branding, globalization, and the relationship between business and government can be explored in an interesting way through the development of Coca-Cola. I don't drink it myself, but if I did, I'd really be interested in how it came about and how the company has operated for the last century. It's all fascinating, I'd encourage anyone to read it. The contextual treatment of world history was very easily absorbed. For instance, his explanation of the actual reasons Bostonians held the Boston Tea Party would make certain parts of the conservative movement think twice about their ideological mascot - the Tea Act was actually a move to lower taxes but also gave the British East India Company a monopoly to export tea to the colonies. The Tea Party is more of a lesson in the dangers of ties between government and business than a pat anti-tax catchphrase. You'll never look at your glass, mug, bottle, or tumbler the same way ever again.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Wayland Smith

    I read about this book and was interested in the concept. How have various drinks helped shape human history? I wasn't sure what to expect, but what I got was a light read that was entertaining and informative. Discussed are beer, wine, rum, coffee, tea, and Coke. I know it sounds like a weird and random assortment, but the author makes it work. Beer was one of the first drinks mankind made, and some theories about how it happened, ancient stories about it, and its importance to ancient cultures I read about this book and was interested in the concept. How have various drinks helped shape human history? I wasn't sure what to expect, but what I got was a light read that was entertaining and informative. Discussed are beer, wine, rum, coffee, tea, and Coke. I know it sounds like a weird and random assortment, but the author makes it work. Beer was one of the first drinks mankind made, and some theories about how it happened, ancient stories about it, and its importance to ancient cultures are all covered. Next up is wine, which the author mostly associates with the Greek and Roman peoples. Rum played a big part in the slave trade and, as an aside, he throws in the Whiskey Rebellion, a little-known sequel to the American Revolution. Coffee started in Arab lands, was brought East by traders, and then coffeehouses became all the rage, and had something to do with such diverse things as Newton's Theory of Gravity and the French Revolution. Tea is big in the histories of China, England, and India, and he talks about how it became THE English drink, and the link to the Opium Wars. To wrap it up, what modern drink could sum up the 20th century better than Coca Cola? It's an interesting read, and not really taxing to follow. I enjoyed it, and if you like learning history in a slightly different way, you may as well.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Praxedes

    It is possible to view history through almost any lens...in this case the author chose drinks to tell a story of the world's development. Filled with interesting facts and carefully researched, the author deftly recounts human/political/religious events from the perspective of six different drinks. Interestingly, half of them contain no alcohol! I would have rated it higher were it not for the sometimes confusing prose. Transitional phrases from one subtopic to the next did not have the flow need It is possible to view history through almost any lens...in this case the author chose drinks to tell a story of the world's development. Filled with interesting facts and carefully researched, the author deftly recounts human/political/religious events from the perspective of six different drinks. Interestingly, half of them contain no alcohol! I would have rated it higher were it not for the sometimes confusing prose. Transitional phrases from one subtopic to the next did not have the flow needed to cover such an enormous time span seamlessly. But I would definitely recommend it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Had to read this book for school so I obviously didn’t enjoy it 😂

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    I enjoyed this overview of six influential and historically important beverages throughout human history. This is a very broad, surface-level overview, but that's not a bad thing! I liked how the author focused on each beverage in regards to a specific time/place. It's inspired me to try and read further about these topics.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    An extremely interesting history of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, Coca-Cola - and, yes, to some extent, water - so, it's really 7 - through the lens of world events, the evolution of civilization, colonization, trade, politics, culture, religion, health, war, and, of course, economics.... This is a fast, fun read, if for no other reason than it offers relatively compact, easy to digest (!), histories of the six drinks/beverages in the context of, well, the history of the world. Particularly i An extremely interesting history of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, Coca-Cola - and, yes, to some extent, water - so, it's really 7 - through the lens of world events, the evolution of civilization, colonization, trade, politics, culture, religion, health, war, and, of course, economics.... This is a fast, fun read, if for no other reason than it offers relatively compact, easy to digest (!), histories of the six drinks/beverages in the context of, well, the history of the world. Particularly if you've traveled widely, you'll be intrigued by Standage's explanations for how some nations/regions discovered, resisted, and/or became partial (or addicted) to, for example, wine versus beer or coffee versus tea. And my sense is that anthropologists will be at least mildly amused by his descriptions of (and explanations behind) the various serving/drinking rituals and how those ceremonies and habits have persevered, "traveled," or evolved over time and space. I'm confident that, if you consider yourself an aficionado in any of the six beverages - beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, or Coca-Cola - you'll find Standage's coverage sweeping, but inadequate. The short volume permits only a relatively superficial dive into each of the six, with a heavy emphasis on its role and evolution rather than, say, the nuances of the underlying technology or marketing and current standing. (In other words, Standage no more strives to categorize the scores of craft beers at your local specialty beer restaurant than he endeavors to detail the world's assortment of grapes (and blends) or explain how Keurig currently offers literally hundreds of varieties of coffee in K cups....) It's no spoiler, but I found Standage at his best in his introduction and his conclusion, when he generalized, hypothesized, and forecast. I admit I found that the six drinks/topics tended to drag at times, and my gut says that a more skilled editor could have avoided some of the doldrums and repetitions. Nonetheless, an easy read chock full of trivia for the next time you share a drink (pick your poison - beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, or soda) with a friend or colleague...

  22. 5 out of 5

    Zoë

    As someone who's never really enjoyed "proper" history, I'm always surprised when I find myself enjoying a history book. This managed to both entertain and educate me, because with just the 6 drinks highlighted the author managed to create a brief history of civilisation as we know it. It really is amazing how much the fashions for certain drinks (and/or the lack of taxation on certain drinks) has shaped the world! I think the last chapter, on CocaCola, let the book down slightly though. For the As someone who's never really enjoyed "proper" history, I'm always surprised when I find myself enjoying a history book. This managed to both entertain and educate me, because with just the 6 drinks highlighted the author managed to create a brief history of civilisation as we know it. It really is amazing how much the fashions for certain drinks (and/or the lack of taxation on certain drinks) has shaped the world! I think the last chapter, on CocaCola, let the book down slightly though. For the first five drinks, Standage made a fairly convincing argument that they did indeed change the course of human history, however CocaCola is used more as an example of the modern world, not a factor in creating it. It is a good example though, as you will see if you read the book! I zoomed through this in a couple of days, and I'm even considering re-reading it, but this time taking notes ;)

  23. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Meh... Where it was good, it was GREAT. Oddly (for me, 'cos I don't touch the stuff) the section on coffee was the most interesting. Where it wasn't great, it ran to boring. Part of me wanted more, thinking it had to be more interesting than what I was reading. But after a while, part of me thought maybe it's just not, and more would be only more of the same. If you're already interested in this book, go ahead & pick it up. You'll get through it; you will learn some interesting facts; and you Meh... Where it was good, it was GREAT. Oddly (for me, 'cos I don't touch the stuff) the section on coffee was the most interesting. Where it wasn't great, it ran to boring. Part of me wanted more, thinking it had to be more interesting than what I was reading. But after a while, part of me thought maybe it's just not, and more would be only more of the same. If you're already interested in this book, go ahead & pick it up. You'll get through it; you will learn some interesting facts; and you may wind up loving it. If you're not interested, you can pass on this one - it won't be worth the work for you, & you won't miss much.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tory

    I wanted to enjoy reading this book more than I did. It is very informative, and the topic -- 6 glasses -- is a creative way to view history. I found it to be very repetitive, however, and the author could have cut the material in half without losing content, especially in the first half of the book (about beer, wine, and spirits). The book became more interesting to me, and less repetitive in the second half (about coffee, tea, and cola) but still would have benefitted from some editing.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jon Biggerstaff

    I enjoy history. I enjoy libations. Standage combines them both to wield a fascinating book on how 6 distinct beverages helped to shape and, at times, even define a time-period. From the Neolithic period and how the Mesopotamians stumbled into making beer, to the Industrial Revolution and the rise of Coca-Cola, it impresses the idea that beverages were not simply for enjoyment but were often catalysts of change in our society and in global influence.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Your run-of-the-mill gimmicky nonfiction. This one tries organize world history through the lens of beer/wine/spirits/coffee/tea/soda. It drags here and there, but does have some fun facts I hadn't heard before. Kind of fun, kind of forgettable. Feels like virtue for being true, but doesn't leave a great deal of understanding in its wake.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mary Catelli

    This got recommended at Lunacon at more than one panel I was at. The title is a bit hyperbolic. The six drinks discussed are indeed significant in the history of beverages, and their adoption occured at otherwise historically significant times, but sometimes they were just harbringers, or even merely coinciding -- though sometimes they were indeed movers and shakers in history. Then, the drinks by themselves can be fascinating. Beer is the first, and obviously, the least well-documented, since it This got recommended at Lunacon at more than one panel I was at. The title is a bit hyperbolic. The six drinks discussed are indeed significant in the history of beverages, and their adoption occured at otherwise historically significant times, but sometimes they were just harbringers, or even merely coinciding -- though sometimes they were indeed movers and shakers in history. Then, the drinks by themselves can be fascinating. Beer is the first, and obviously, the least well-documented, since it predates writing. We don't even know if mead or wine might have been actually first. But we have archeological evidence of humanity's beginning to harvest grains and store them, and soon after, they must have made two discoveries. One is that grain that is wetted and allowed to start sprouting becomes sweet -- a rare treat in that time. The other was that a mix of water and grain would, after a few days, become alcoholic. Great stuff, because it was safer than water to drink, and when drunk before the fermentation ended, would contain suspended yeast, full of good nutrition. "Beer and bread" were standard for laborers, and Enkidu's savage state was marked by a lack of knowledge of those two dishes. Beer making advanced with such discoveries as keeping on using the same tub made better beer -- it would contain yeast from the last time. And we have very early pictures of two men drinking from a pot with straws, necessarily because of all the flotsam in the drink. Mesopatmia treated drunkness more humorously, and Egypt more gravely, with many injunctions against it, but both civilizations drank. (I think some of this is more speculative than it is treated.) Later, they also started to drink "the beer of the mountains" or wine. There was a time when it was fantasically expensive, and people would float it down river from the mountains and then break up the rafts and sell them for a tenth of what they had originally cost, because the price of the wine would justify it, and for a few centuries it was tribute, but it grew less expensive, partly because the Greeks were shipping it everywhere. (Whereupon he goes into the technicalities of feasting and wine with Romans and Greeks -- the Romans would graduate the vintages at a feast by status, and once a man was caught because his host sent out a slave to buy a better vintage because he could not give his high status guest his own wine.) And the continuation of wine throughout the Middle Ages. Which also saw the development of alchemy, and the refinement of distilling arts until we get spirits. And its connection with the slave trade. And its discovery of rum -- handily made from the byproducts of making sugar. Great Britain tried to ban the importation of molasses from the French islands to the American colonies, which would have raised prices and limited supplies, because the molasses from the British islands was not only inferior but insufficient for the amount of rum drunk. Not that America didn't have its own problems, especially when people inland began turning to whisky, which needed local, not imported, ingredients. Coffee was discovered in Arabia, where some people tried to ban it as an intoxicant for its mental effects. And spread to Europe despite horrors from occasional physicians. Boiling the water made it, like all the alcoholic drinks, safer than water, and it was very popular with the information classes of the day, the expanding class of clerks, for instance. Coffee houses became important centers of trade and discussion, and even scientific lectures. The Stock Exchange began in a coffee house, though they had to leave when a broker complained of exclusion from a public location. Tea was introduced to England by Charles II's bride, and it took a while to really take off, because it was more expensive, but it did manage. It was even better than coffee, because of its anti-bacterial properties which meant that even boiling the water had some help. The age of its discovery in China was somewhat exaggerated in the records, and for a time under the Monguls, it was not as important because the emperors prefered their own drinks, but it spread again after that dynasty. It also spread in England, where a merchant named Twinings actually opened a tea store next to his coffee shop so women, who couldn't go into the coffee shop, could buy the tea. His company's logo is still in use -- the oldest continually used logo. Tea lead to other effects, too, such as that which the tea tax had the American colonies (though it didn't cause tea to be supplanted by coffee, because the supply was restored after the war ended, and not until the mid-nineteenth century did coffee take over), and the opium trade to China, because the East India Company was finding the rising price of silver cutting into its profits, and China was not interested in other goods. And then the company began to raise tea in India, devastating the China tea trade, and contributing to China's instability. And finally there is Coca-Cola, originally a patent medicine made by a man who promulgated a lot of them, and urgently needed a temperance one -- without alcohol. It depended on the invention of sparkling waters, which were first treated as medicinal, and then sold with flavors but still with the virtuous aura. It's no accident that soda fountains were a feature of drug stories. Coca-Cola spread quickly part because they just sold the syrup and the druggists loved it. Then, as a headache remedy, it had an intristically limited audience. It went for Refreshing, instead. The Pure Food and Drug Act at first looked good for it, removing some rivals, but then there was a big law suit accusing it of being contaminated by containing caffeine -- and sold to children, even, unlike tea or coffee. They won. The judge ruled that it was not a contaminant because it was part of the recipe. Still, Coca-Cola agreed not to use children in its ads, which help explain its use of Santa Claus in ads. Whereupon it managed to weather the repeal of Prohibition, and the Depression, and a new rival, During World War II, they were setting up plants on the military bases so that service men could get it as the standard price. It concludes with an epilogue about bottled water -- back to the beginning, when we had no other beverages. There have been a lot of interesting wrinkles in the history of drinks.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alicia

    Where has this book for the last decade having not been read by me? I'm so grateful for a social studies teacher's recommendation as I haven't heard of it but was completely fascinated by the concept of the book and the story itself. Essentially vignettes that focus on six drinks and how the world: religion, politics, science, economics, and socialization changed as a result of their discovery or innovation. I liked that this book was straightforward in its storytelling, using a basic explanatio Where has this book for the last decade having not been read by me? I'm so grateful for a social studies teacher's recommendation as I haven't heard of it but was completely fascinated by the concept of the book and the story itself. Essentially vignettes that focus on six drinks and how the world: religion, politics, science, economics, and socialization changed as a result of their discovery or innovation. I liked that this book was straightforward in its storytelling, using a basic explanation of the politics so that even someone like me can understand it and the drink's impact on that political conversation. Obviously I have my particular favorites (beer and tea) but there was so much enriching information about locations and countries in all of them and how things like coffeehouses evolved and essentially became post offices and intellectual exchanges. Symposiums and wine? Peace treaties and Pepsi. Just a fascinating peak behind the curtain using something as (sometimes thought to be) innocuous but the elixir of life! Plus I liked how he had it come full circle because it is so true (even more true than it was written 12ish years ago) that water is now the topic of most conversations.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Hawkins

    Such an enjoyable read. I love reading about food and nutrition, but this is the first food history book I've ever read. And it was right up my alley. His summary of world history in these six main drinks is actually quite accurate, and he has insights on each drink and their histories. Some chapters were slightly better than others, but each chapter really was intriguing. In short, I had no idea that these main six world drinks (seven if you include water, which is talked about briefly but well Such an enjoyable read. I love reading about food and nutrition, but this is the first food history book I've ever read. And it was right up my alley. His summary of world history in these six main drinks is actually quite accurate, and he has insights on each drink and their histories. Some chapters were slightly better than others, but each chapter really was intriguing. In short, I had no idea that these main six world drinks (seven if you include water, which is talked about briefly but well in the epilogue) really affected history so much. I now know more about beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola (and even water!), and I especially appreciate them and their histories more. It all truly is fascinating. So I definitely would recommend the book. It isn't life changing or anything, but it is an enjoyable and insightful read. For each drink, he has two well organized chapters. And then the epilogue cleverly talks about how the drink of the future looks to actually be water—it all comes full circle. So overall, I loved it. Will read it again in the future (after I forget much of the information). I'd put this right up there with The Dorito Effect in the category of non-Christian non-fiction books that I thoroughly enjoyed.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Julie Barrett

    Eh, it was ok. I did learn various random facts that should help me the next time I play a trivia game. That's a plus, I guess. The book was like reading a bunch of wikipedia articles, no real cohesion at all. Not an in-depth account of anything but rather a summary of information.

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