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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Book Review: A History of the World in 6 Glasses

A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage
2005, Walker & Company, New York

Listen to the Audio Podcast of this review

When I saw this book, by the author of The Victorian Internet and The Turk, at the library I had to check it out. I enjoyed both of these earlier books so much that I regularly recommend them to others. Standage has a way of making history come alive by focusing on one particular aspect. A History of the World in 6 Glasses follows much the same design.

This time Standage explores history using 6 different drinks that have effected civilization in dramatic ways. He begins with beer, discovered in ancient times, but improved repeatedly, becoming safer to drink than the polluted water supplies that surrounded ancient, and not so ancient cities.

Once global shipping improved, Greek wines could begin traveling around the Mediterranean and the world, moving from an expensive drink for royalty to daily ration for everyone in society. Wine developed into a liquid currency that could be easily "spent" and divided, but unlike modern paper money, it could even be consumed when necessary.

Distilled spirits started as a miracle cure, eau de vie or literally "water of life". They were rediscovered by Europeans, from Arabic sources, as the Dark Ages ebbed. Spirits like Rum created entire economies, eventually acting as one trigger for American Independence.

Then came coffee, "The Great Soberer" and the coffeehouse environment that fomented intellectual growth, great thinking and many of the revolutions that would shake the 18th Century.

Tea, with Britain as its powerhouse and largest consumer forever altered the civilizations of China and other Eastern countries, leading to hundreds of years of foreign control continuing even until this century.

Finally, Standage ends with the effects of Coca-Cola and how it forever changed the global economy.

Throughout "6 Glasses", I found new information, new incites, new documentation that I had never seen before. While I was familiar with the basic concepts behind these drinks and how they effected society, bringing it all together in one book makes for an engaging and enlightening read.

Pick up "6 Glasses" or any other of Standage's books and you are sure to enjoy yourself as well as learn something you might never have known.

Other books by Tom Standage

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