VIEWS: 4 PAGES: 8 POSTED ON: 12/26/2010
Title: Book Review: A History of the World in 6 Glasses Word Count: 1168 Summary: 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. Keywords: 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.
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