Summary and book reviews of A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

by Tom Standage

A History of the World in 6 Glasses
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2005, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2006, 311 pages

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Book Summary

Throughout human history. certain drinks have done much more than just quench thirst. Six of them have had a surprisingly pervasive influence on the course of history, becoming the defining drink during a pivotal historical period from the Stone Age to the 21st century.

From beer to Coca-Cola, the six drinks that have helped shape human history.

 Throughout human history. certain drinks have done much more than just quench thirst. As Tom Standage relates with authority and charm, six of them have had a surprisingly pervasive influence on the course of history, becoming the defining drink during a pivotal historical period.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses tells the story of humanity from the Stone Age to the 21st century through the lens of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. Beer was first made in the Fertile Crescent and by 3000 B.C.E. was so important to Mesopotamia and Egypt that it was used to pay wages. In ancient Greece wine became the main export of her vast seaborne trade, helping spread Greek culture abroad. Spirits such as brandy and rum fueled the Age of Exploration, fortifying seamen on long voyages and oiling the pernicious slave trade. Although coffee originated in the Arab world, it stoked revolutionary thought in Europe during the Age of Reason, when coffeehouses became centers of intellectual exchange. And hundreds of years after the Chinese began drinking tea, it became especially popular in Britain, with far-reaching effects on British foreign policy. Finally, though carbonated drinks were invented in 18th-century Europe they became a 20th-century phenomenon, and Coca-Cola in particular is the leading symbol of globalization.

For Tom Standage, each drink is a kind of technology, a catalyst for advancing culture by which he demonstrates the intricate interplay of different civilizations. You may never look at your favorite drink the same way again.

Introduction
Vital Fluids

There is no history of mankind, there are only many histories of all kinds of aspects of human life.
—Karl Popper, philosopher of science (1902–94)

Thirst is deadlier than hunger. Deprived of food, you might survive for a few weeks, but deprived of liquid refreshment, you would be lucky to last more than a few days. Only breathing matters more. Tens of thousands of years ago, early humans foraging in small bands had to remain near rivers, springs, and lakes to ensure an adequate supply of freshwater, since storing or carrying it was impractical. The availability of water constrained and guided humankind’s progress. Drinks have continued to shape human history ever since.

Only in the past ten thousand years or so have other beverages emerged to challenge the preeminence of water. These drinks do not occur naturally in any quantity but must be made deliberately. As well as offering safer alternatives to contaminated, disease...

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Reviews

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Media Reviews

Matthew Rees - The Wall Street Journal

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, a writer for the Economist magazine, argues that beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and cola have each, in their own way, helped to shape the course of history.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.

Kirkus Reviews

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!

Reader Reviews

Johan

Great
I read this book for my AP class. For interested parties only. Its written simply enough for anyone to read, but ONLY IF YOU HAVE AN INTEREST IN HISTORY, otherwise you'll spend most of your time complaining about having to read it for an AP ...   Read More

JS115

A History of the World in 6 Glasses
I kinda liked it but it wasn't what the title says. It's not the whole History of the World... It was the History of the Six Drinks, that's what makes this book kind of boring.

Blah

Hard To Read
I had to read this book for AP World History. Actually, I'm still reading it. I just can't get through it. Some things are very interesting but it's just very hard to get into it.

gotzy284

Horrible
I had to read this book for my AP Class. It was so boring, I actually almost fell asleep. Wouldn't read it for spare time.

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The current wave of history books written from the point of view of one, often seemingly unimportant product, whether it be salt, coal, spices, plants, or in the case of this book, drinks, sends me into positive paroxysms of happiness, because they present history in a form that I actually enjoy! My dusty old school history books were enough to turn off all but the most inspired historian, and especially unappealing to girls with their emphasis on battles. The only light relief came in the form of 1066 and All That by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman. - but even that was intended for an adult ...

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