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A History of the World in Six Glasses [Paperback]

Tom Standage
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

14 Jun 2007
Throughout human history, certain drinks have done much more than simply quench our thirst. As Tom Standage relates with easy authority and charm, six of them - beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and cola - have had a surprisingly pervasive influence on the course of history during pivotal epochs. From humankind's adoption of agriculture and the birth of cities to the advent of globalization, Standage reveals the intricate interplay of different civilizations by appreciating each drink as a kind of technology, a catalyst for advancing culture. After reading his clever and enlightened book, you may never look at your favourite drink in quite the same way again.

Product details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (14 Jun 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843545950
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843545958
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 143,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"...original...gloriously multi-layered." -- Publishing News, 9th February 2007

"Standage manages to be incisive, illuminating and swift without
belabouring his analysis." -- Janet Maslin, Scotland on Sunday, 17th June 2007

"Standage tells his story with verve and there are suprises on almost every
page." -- Ian Pinder, The Guardian, 16th June 2007

"...his research is vast and his writing accessible and strewn
with fascinating facts... this is a delightful and informative book." -- Nina Caplan, Metrolife, 13th June 2007

"Whatever your poison, this fizzy cocktail of social and cultural
history is hard to resist." -- The Daily Mail, Friday 8th June 2007

About the Author

Tom Standage is business editor at The Economist and author of The Turk, The Neptune File and The Victorian Internet. He has also written for publications including the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, New York Times and Wired. He holds a degree in engineering and computer science from Oxford University and is the least musical member of a musical family. He is married and lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very readable with interesting detail 22 Jan 2006
By Dennis Littrell TOP 500 REVIEWER
This is about six beverages that changed world history. They are: beer, wine, distilled liquor, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola.
Author Tom Standage begins by taking us back to the dawn of the agricultural age with beer in Mesopotamia and Egypt, and in pre-Columbian Europe. Beer was the drink of choice for just about everybody because there was little else to drink (no coffee, no tea, and only the occasional grape or fruit wine or mead made from honey). And beer was actually better for you than water because the alcohol in beer killed bacteria and other parasites. This is a theme that comes up again and again in the book: all these beverages were better than water because they were safer to drink than water. Beer was also a major source of calories for those who drank it. Interesting enough the Egyptians drank their beer with straws and in the Middle Ages in Europe almost everybody had beer and/or beer soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Of course most of the beer had about half the alcohol that is typically in beer today--probably about three percent versus today's six percent.
Next Standage returns us to the grandeur that was Greece and the glory that was Rome as we learn about wine. Both the Greeks and the Romans drank their wine mixed with water. That was the only civilized way. Only barbarians and other uncouth people drank wine straight. The Greeks sometimes flavored their wines with (gulp!) seawater. The Romans also adulterated their wines with all sorts of herbs, honey and even pitch (as a preservative). It's clear that their wines weren't all that good, nothing like the quality we have today, except perhaps for a few drunk only by emperors and others at the pinnacle of power.
Chapters 5 and 6 are about distilled liquor, especially rum and whiskey.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A nice perspective 6 Aug 2010
I really enjoyed the drink perspective on the history - how our habits and traditions effect the flow of the history (or vice versa). It is an easy read, and I liked the flow of the book - a bit of the history of each drink, then the history around that time, and how both relate to each other. Strongly recommend.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes think about what you are drinking! 30 July 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Another great take on how something has changed the history of the world,in this case drinks. An excellently researched history of the origins of six of the most important created drinks in the world that reveals a whole series of really interesting facts about them. It also destroyed a good few myths I'd heard, especially about the origins of Coca-Cola. Each drink is a short history in itself so a book that can be easily dipped into if desired. If you have an enquiring mind and an interest in why and how what you are drinking was first produced, I'd greatly recommend this book as a good read.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A tasty appetizer of a book 26 Sep 2007
In this book, Tom Standage offers an account of the historical significance of six beverages - beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola. Through them he provides a brisk sketch of world history, from the establishment of settled civilization in ancient Mesopotamia to the globalised world in which we live today. The perspective provided by his approach is interesting, and generally he manages to avoid the kind of overstated claims that are a common trap of works like this.

Yet as I read the book, I found myself wanting more. Standage's overviews are rather cursory - perhaps excessively so - and he glosses over some information that does not fit into the structure he lays out for the reader (gin is conspicuously absent, for example, despite its importance in the 18th century). The result is to make the book an intellectual appetizer (albeit a tasty one) rather than a meal, and after having their appetites whetted some readers will find themselves resorting to the bibliography he provides at the end of the text to learn more. As an introduction, though, Standage's book is a good starting point as an enjoyable read full of interesting details.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining if a little shallow 5 Sep 2011
Standage describes the historical role of six drinks. And so we get beer in Mesopotomia and Egypt; wine in ancient Greece and Rome; spirits in the colonial period; coffee in the Enlightenment; tea in the British empire; and coca-cola in the rise of the United States.

The book increases in interest as it comes closer to the present day - the chapters on coca-cola, with its origins as a patent medicine, are splendid. Did you know, for example, of Vin Mariani, a drink containing both alcohol and cocaine, which was endorsed by 'three popes, two American presidents, Queen Victoria and the inventor Thomas Edison'? Or that the United States government tried in 1911 to ban the sale of coca-cola (in the case of The United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca Cola)?

There are some reservations. First, Standage is not sufficiently clear on the extent to which the introduction of each of these drinks caused various social and historical developments, or merely accompanied them. In the introduction he writes:

'As a technology writer, I noticed that each drink's impact was akin to that of a new invention that spreads through society and acts as a catalyst for social and historical change'.

Talking about a 'catalyst' suggests that Standange thinks that these drinks caused various social changes. But elsewhere in the book he merely talks about the drinks 'accompanying' or 'mirroring' various developments. These are quite different. For example, while it is true that the introduction of coffee into England and the Netherlands in the 17th century accompanied the scientific and financial revolutions of that period, is it really plausible to imagine that it caused them?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars amusing read and informative
A good book covering the World from a beverage perspective. I would have liked the section on spirits to have included gin and vodka for their profound effects on English and... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Mr. Stephen Parkin
5.0 out of 5 stars Funniest, interesting reads
I liked the book for it is witty and well written, rich in interesting anecdotes, and absolutely worthwhile to discuss with an Irish friend.
Published 14 months ago by Giulio Tartaglia
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable
Exellent interesting and readable account of the part played by beverages in the history of the world from pre-history to the modern day.
Published 20 months ago by P. F. May
5.0 out of 5 stars Most enjoyable
This is a clever idea, beautifully executed.

I listened to the audiobook version, and immediately ordered several paper copies as Christmas presents for friends. Read more
Published on 21 Dec 2011 by Quentin SF
4.0 out of 5 stars A fun, fascinating and convincing take on world history
Tom Standage has come up with an engaging and convincing way of making sense of human history - through what we drank in different periods. Read more
Published on 11 Sep 2011 by R Bain
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic history lesson
This book is one of the greatest history lessons I have ever had. It effortlessly guides the reader through the dawn of civilisation up to the modern day with an interesting take... Read more
Published on 19 July 2008 by N. Doyle
5.0 out of 5 stars Cheers!
A fascinating social history of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coca Cola. How these drinks were part of history and influenced it from the ancient world through to... Read more
Published on 1 July 2008 by G. J. Weeks
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