If you don’t like history or minutiae, there’s nothing to see here. Move along.
But if you like sweeping analysis, interesting historical detail right down to flavors, and a clever look at where culture, politics and technology intersect, then you ought to pick up A History of the World in 6 Glasses and peruse it while quaffing a beer, sipping a whiskey cocktail or lingering over a nice cup of tea.
Author Tom Standage tells the story of agriculture, civilization and globalization through the lens of what we humans were drinking in six eras:
- Beer in Mesopotamia and Egypt
- Wine in Greece and Rome
- Spirits in the Colonial Period
- Coffee in the Age of Reason
- Tea and the British Empire
- Coca-Cola and the Rise of America
I picked up this book at the behest of my aunt, who chose it for our family book club discussion. Though some of my relatives found it was too detailed and would be better as a television documentary, I enjoyed it.
This is not a book about fine wine or how to make the perfect cup of coffee. Instead, Standage persuades readers that each of the six beverages literally changed the world by bringing people together—as wine did in Roman households or Coca-Cola did in globalization—or driving them apart—as in the role tea played in the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution. “Everyone has to drink,” Standage writes, “Each drink tells us about the priorities of the people who drank them: who drank what, and where they got it from, tells you a lot about the structure of society.”
I knew Ancients drank beer because potable water was sometimes difficult to get, but I learned that’s true also of wine, whiskey and even coffee and tea (to make coffee and tea, the water has to be boiled, which improves germy water immensely).
I also learned the role rum played in the slave trade. Enjoying a fruity rum drink now feels vaguely wrong to me. The chapter on European coffeehouses in the seventeenth century functioning as the internet by offering news, gossip, networking and lively discussions was also fascinating.
A History of the World in 6 Glasses, isn’t exactly a beach read, but it is an easy read considering all the ground it covers (where else could you find the history of the world in 265 pages?). It is a good choice for a book club (at least, if members are amenable to reading history) because everyone can chat about their takeaways over their favorite drink. Cheers!