Book_Review__A_History_of_the_World_in_6_Glasses by MonikaKam


Book Review: A History of the World
in 6 Glasses

Word Count:

Tom Standage's new book invites you
 to see the world in a whole new li
ght: through the glass of a drink.
Starting with the dawn of civilizat
ion, and taking us right through mo
dern day "beverage globalization",
this book is an excellent refresher
 course on world history with page
after page of insights into the hum
an experience.

Books, Book Review, History, Drinks
, Reading, World History, Drinking,
 Alcohol, Beverages

Article Body:
World History is a long and complex
 topic. Though many accomplished au
thors such as Bill Bryson and H. G.
 Wells have attempted to condense h
istory into a single book, very few
 have succeeded. There is just too
much of it. Attempts to boil down t
he last 10,000 years have resulted
in either superficial books with ve
ry little depth, or great textbook
like tombs too inaccessible for the
 casual reader.

Happily, <i>A History of the World
in 6 Glasses</i> by Tom Standage su
cceeds where others have failed. St
andage's book does this by sacrific
ing the breadth of every possible t
opic for an impressive depth and fo
cus. Instead of trying to sum up th
e complete history of man, this boo
k spotlights a single topic, in thi
s case beverages, and then takes th
e reader on a journey through time
to see how his topic interweaves th
e past. Standage is a delightful wr
iter, mixing his light hearted styl
e with exceptional historical savvy
 not just on the topic of drinks, b
ut throughout.

Despite my now positive opinion of
this book, I have to confess that w
hen I first picked up <i>A History
of the World in 6 Glasses</i>, I di
d not expect to enjoy it. Not only
am I skeptical of any book claiming
 to sum up the antiquity of man in
300 pages or less, but I myself do
not drink any of the 6 beverages th
is book discusses. As such, learnin
g the history of these drinks did n
ot sound immediately appealing. How
ever, what I quickly learned is tha
t this book is <b>not</b> a history
 of 6 drinks, but rather just as th
e title states, a history of the wo
rld, told through the story of 6 dr
inks. As the book points out in the
 introduction, second only to air,
liquid is the most vital substance
to man's survival. The availability
 of water and other drinking source
s have "constrained and guided huma
nkind's progress" and "have continu
ed to shape human history". Through
out time, beverages have done more
than quenched our thirst; they have
 been used as currencies, medicines
, and in religious rites. They have
 served as symbols of wealth and po
wer, as well as tools to appease th
e poor and downtrodden.

<i>A History of the World in 6 Glas
ses</i> is broken down into six sec
tions, one for each drink, the firs
t of which is beer. Man's first civ
ilizations where founded on surplus
 cereal production, much of which w
as brewed. Ancient day beers were h
igh in vitamin B, a vitamin previou
sly only obtained through meat. Thi
s allowed the population to focus t
heir nutrition efforts more and mor
e on cereals, effectively ushering
in the transition from hunter-gathe
rers to farmers. Additionally, beca
use early beers were boiled (to con
vert more starch into sugars), the
beer was significantly safer to dri
nk than water. This significant imp
rovement in lifestyle "freed a smal
l fraction of the population from t
he need to work in the fields, and
made possible the emergence of spec
ialist priest, administrators, scri
bes, and craftsmen." Not only did b
eer nourish man's first civilizatio
ns, but in many ways, made them ent
irely possible.

Wine, the next beverage in the book
, played a major role in the flouri
shing Greek and Roman cultures. As
wine did not originate from the Med
iterranean, the Greek's desire for
this drink opened up vast seaborne
trade, which spread their philosoph
y, politics, science and literature
 far and wide, and still underpins
modern Western thought. <i>A Histor
y of the World in 6 Glasses</i> poi
nts out how these advancements orig
inated and grew at formal Greek dri
nking parties, called <i>symposia</
i>. The Romans, who absorbed much o
f Greek culture, continued the stro
ng use of wine. As the book notes,
if you trace the wine drinking area
s of the world on a map, you will f
ind you have traced the Roman empir
e at its height.

After a thousand years of hibernati
on, Western civilization was awaken
ed by the rediscovery of ancient kn
owledge, long safeguarded in the Ar
ab world. However, in an attempt to
 circumvent this Arab monopoly, Eur
opean monarchs launched massive fle
ets into the sea. This age of explo
ration was greatly enhanced by the
Arab knowledge of distillation, whi
ch made a whole new range of drinks
 possible. <i>A History of the Worl
d in 6 Glasses</i> describes how th
ese condensed forms of alcohol (nam
ely Brandy, Whiskey and Rum) were s
o popular, especially in the new Am
erican colonies, that "they played
a key role in the establishment of
the United States."

The fourth beverage presented in th
is book is coffee. Because of its s
harpening effect on the mind, coffe
e quickly became the drink of intel
lect and industry. Replacing tavern
s as the sophisticated meeting plac
e, the coffeehouse "led to the esta
blishment of scientific societies a
nd financial institutions, the foun
ding of newspapers, and provided fe
rtile ground for revolutionary thou
ght, particularly in France." <i>A
History of the World in 6 Glasses</
i> goes on to recount the intricate
 effect coffeehouses had on Victori
an culture, going so far as to dedi
cate an entire chapter to what the
book calls "The Coffeehouse Internet".

Even though the inception of tea da
te back many thousands of years, it
 didn't take hold upon western cult
ure until the mid-seventeenth centu
ry. Once established as England's n
ational drink, the importing of tea
 from first China and then India le
d to trade and industrialization on
 an unprecedented scale. <i>A Histo
ry of the World in 6 Glasses</i> de
scribes the immense power of the Br
itish East India Company, which "ge
nerated more revenue than the Briti
sh government and ruled over far mo
re people", wielding more power tha
n any other corporation in history.
 This imbalance of power had an eno
rmous, far-reaching effect on Briti
sh foreign policy, and ultimately c
ontributed to the independence of t
he United States.

Like most of the drinks discussed i
n <i>A History of the World in 6 Gl
asses</i>, Coca-Cola was originally
 devised as a medical drink. More t
han any other product, Coca-Cola ha
s stood as the symbol of America's
"vibrant consumer capitalism". Rath
er than shrink at the challenge, Co
ca-Cola took full advantage of the
challenging times it found itself i
n, gaining ground through the depre
ssion, and then traveling alongside
 our soldiers into WWII, becoming a
 global phenomenon. According to th
e book, Coca-Cola still accounts fo
r "around 30 percent of all liquid
consumption" today.

<i>A History of the World in 6 Glas
ses</i> makes it clear that the his
tory of mankind is a history of our
 consumption. Whether we are drinki
ng "liquid bread" in Mesopotamia, p
ondering revolution in a Coffeehous
e in Paris, or throwing tea leafs i
nto the ocean in Boston, these drin
ks have had a profound impact on wh
o we are. As Standage says in the i
ntroduction to his book "They survi
ve in our homes today as living rem
inders of bygone eras, fluid testam
ents to the forces that shaped the
modern world. Uncover their origins
, and you may never look at your fa
vorite drink in quite the same way
again." I highly recommend this boo
k to anyone thirsty for knowledge a
bout the world around them... or ev
en if they're just thirsty for a go
od drink.

To top