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A History of the World in Six Glasses Paperback – 14 Jun 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books; Main edition (14 Jun. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843545950
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843545958
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 113,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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By MarkK TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 26 Sept. 2007
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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 Russian society,also Prohibition,which helped to solidify lawbreaking and organized crime in the U.S.
The section on Coca-Cola outlines the health risks early opponents expounded but fails to mention current concerns regarding its high sugar content(the average American gets some 11 pounds of sugar per year from its products)with inherent risks of type 2 diabetes and tooth decay ,perhaps this is a factor in America's dismal life expectancy,51st in world rankings. Mexicans who consume 70% more have just been declared the most obese people on Earth.
The final section on water mentions the bottled tap waters Aquafina and Dasani (p.168) but omits to mention they are marketed by Pepsi and Coca-Cola.
The author was brave in the final section to record that Israel appropriates 82% of the occupied West Bank's water for its own use,one reason not to expect any movement on the two-state solution.
Recommended reading.
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Format: Paperback
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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