Friday, May 18, 2007

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

I'm reading Tom Standage's A History of the World in 6 Glasses. The basic premise is:
The role of beverages is more closely tied to human development than we may suppose.
Standage takes us back to the dawn of civilization:
  • discovering “beer” by soaking cereals in water; to the immense popularization of beer in ancient Egpyt, as well as the Mesopotamian empires;
  • to the eventual affordability of wine and the immense role it played first in Greek civilization and then in their successors, the Romans;
  • to the rise of distilled spirits, the invention of brandy, rum, and grog, and the bitter legacy of slavery that they left;
  • to the roots of coffee in 16th century Yemen; to its eventual popularity in Europe, where it fueled New Academia and provided a boost for the French Revolution (it began in a coffeehouse);
  • to the displacement of coffee in Britain by the Next Big Thing™, that is, tea; to the unprecedented stretch of the British empire that the global trade of tea both caused and funded;
  • finally, to the invention of Coca-Cola and its parallel of the United States’ growth as a major world power.

This book is the briefest of overviews, touching upon history only where it intersects with these beverages. For example, the section on coffee is ≈50 pages: compare that with the 500+ pages of Uncommon Grounds. Still, I think Standage does a pretty good job tracing the influence of these various beverages.

It's an interesting read and take on history.

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