Book Review: A History of the World in 6 Glasses

December 16, 2011

I almost got a minor in British history, so I am able, depending on the author, to sit down and read a history book. I picked up A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage because it was on a library recommendation table. This book covers three alcohols: beer, wine, distilled spirits, and then moves into three non-alcohols: coffee, tea, and soda pop, and how they all shaped the world. Examples include:

  • While beer and wine were probably discovered at the same time, beer was the dominate drink at first because pottery had not yet been invented, which was needed for winemaking.
  • Wine took over as the dominate beverage with the Greeks, who would drink it watered down so that they could have free flowing thought without fighting.
  • Rum production helped lead to the American Revolution, as the colonists were buying molasses from the French colonies in the Caribbean, so the British started the Molasses Tax.
  • Coffee was the anti-alcohol, though it was at first met with a lot of resistance as being just as evil.
  • Bricks of tea was used as currency in ancient China, and China only sold tea originally to the British in exchange for silver, as they were uninterested in European goods. This lead to the Opium War.
  • Soda pop was an industrial revolution experiment, and the creator of Coca-Cola, John Pemberton, chose to put his medicinal concoction originally in wine but made the switch to in soda water instead of alcohol because the City of Atlanta, where he was, had a two year Prohibition in 1886.

I find this a fascinating read that is written not too dryly. However, I sometimes feel like Standage did a lot of research on one aspect of a topic, formed a good thesis, and gave it lots of support, only to kind of rush the conclusion and/or decide to stop researching. For example, he goes from how coffee houses started the French Revolution, but wraps up with to just two paragraphs on coffee today. It was a bit awkward.

Overall, though, I found this to be a fascinating read, and I would recommend this book to any history buffs.

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