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A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Tom Standage

Bloomsbury USA

A History of the World in 6 Glasses Download image

ISBN10: 0802715524
ISBN13: 9780802715524


336 Pages



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Throughout human history, certain drinks have done much more than just quench thirst. As Tom Standage relates, six of them have had a surprisingly pervasive influence on the course of history during pivotal epochs—from humankind's adoption of agriculture and the birth of cities to the advent of globalization. A History of the World in 6 Glasses presents a vision of world history, telling the story of humanity from the Stone Age to the twenty-first century through the lens of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. For Standage, each drink is a kind of technology, a catalyst for advancing culture by which he demonstrates the intricate interplay of different civilizations.


Praise for A History of the World in 6 Glasses

"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

"[Standage] uses something mundane and everyday to tell vivid and accessible stories about the changing textures of human life."—Steven Shapin, The New Yorker

"As refreshing as a cool glass of beer on a hot day and as stimulating as that first cup of coffee in the morning. There aren't many books this entertaining that also provide a cogent crash course in ancient, classical and modern history."—Wendy Smith, Los Angeles Times

"Historians, understandably, devote most of their attention to war, politics and, not least, money. But history can also be seen through the prism of the commodities that money buys. In A History of the World in Six Glasses, Tom Standage argues that beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and cola have each, in their own way, helped to shape the course of history."—Matthew Rees, The Wall Street Journal

"When Standage decided to follow his readable study of an 18th-century chess-playing automaton, The Turk, with a book about six beverages that really did change the world, he had the grace to take both the title and the story in a new direction."—Stephen Meuse, Boston Globe

"The book makes an easy and agreeable read, never seeming discursive or unwieldy, despite the vast amount of ground it covers. I'll happily raise my glass to that."—Yiling Chen-Josephson, Newsday

"Technology historian Standage follows the flow of civilization as humanity guzzles a half-dozen prime beverages. First made by nature in prehistory was beer. Finding it good, and more salubrious than plain water, mankind turned brewer. (And so the stage was set for cartoons set in barrooms eons later). From cuneiform beer ledgers, Standage's story hops to Dionysus and the oenophiles of Greece and Rome, who knew as much about the pleasures of the grape as any modern wine snob. Here, we learn the vintage that Caligula preferred. In Córdoba, distilled spirits formed rum. Allotments of rum, in turn, enhanced the fighting effectiveness of British tars against foreign sailors debilitated by scurvy. The attempt to pay for the recent revolution by imposing federal taxes on independent stills produced the short-lived Whiskey Rebellion in the new United States. Islam eschewed booze, but a sober gift from the Arab world was coffee. In 17th-century Europe, coffeehouses were not only as ubiquitous as Starbucks, they were 'information exchanges' where people traded news as 'vibrant and unreliable' as that found on a contemporary Internet blog. Tea, which tradition holds was first brewed some 4,500 years ago (our author dates it closer to the first century), became largely controlled, along with opium, by the East India Company. From British tea-time dominance, beverage history goes to that fizzy badge of American hegemony, Coca-Cola. We learn why drugstores once featured soda fountains and how Coke fought Pepsi in WWII. Don't drink the water: throughout history, beer, wine, whiskey, coffee, tea and soda pop were all more potable. Ironically, now that it's bottled and pricey, water seems to making a comeback. Standage offers a distilled account of civilization founded on the drinking habits of mankind from the days of hunter-gatherers to yesterday's designer thirst-quencher. History, along with a bit of technology, etymology, chemistry and bibulous entertainment. Bottoms up!"—Kirkus Reviews

"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."—Booklist

"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."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Tom Standage

Tom Standage is deputy editor of The Economist and author of six history books, including Writing on the Wall, The Victorian Internet, and the New York Times bestseller An Edible History of Humanity. He lives in London.