A History of the World in 6 Glasses


Tom Standage


Non Fiction


Date Reviewed:

June 5, 2006

he title of this book is misleading. It should have been called: "A History of Six Beverages". This is not a history of the world seen from the aspects of what we drink, it is merely a history of those beverages. And frankly, it just isn't that interesting. Did I know that the ancients drank beer from a straw because of chaff floating on the surface? I did not know that. However, I don't find that fact fascinating. That is the problem with this book. It doesn't impress you with great writing, it doesn't reveal insights to human nature, it isn't filled with anecdotes that you find so amazing that you can't wait to tell your friends. There is so much excellent non-fiction being published these days, I suppose I am spoiled. I want great writing!

This book is partioned into 6 sections. Each section describes one of six beverages: we get the tale of beer, wine, spirits (distilled alcohol), coffee, tea, and coca-cola. Unfortunately, a lot of the ground here has already known - rum from the West Indies fueled the slave trade, the British deliberately smuggled opium into China to create demand, so that China would want to import something other than silver and gold for its tea. There was a Boston Tea Party. Coca-cola originally had cocaine in it. Coca-cola is the most widely recognized brand name in the world. Beer and wine were safer to drink than water, because water near early cities was often contaminated, while the alcohol in beer and wine kills microorganisms. Anything here that you haven't heard before?

There were some snippets of information that were good - the French Revolution started right out side a coffee house. The Romans cultivated so much wine on their homeland that they had to import food. I liked this quote, attributed to the CEO of coke: "A billion hours ago, humans appeared earth. A billion minutes ago, Christianity emerged. A billion seconds ago, the Beatles changed music. A billion Coca-Colas ago was yesterday morning."

I guess it is my own fault that I am disappointed - somehow the title led me to believe that this would be world history examined from a different approach - have you ever seen the TV series "Connections" or "The Day the Universe Changed" by James Burke? That's what I mean about looking at history from a different angle. But this book is not so grand. It is a quick read, so maybe you will enjoy it more than I. The reviews on Amazon.com for this book are astonishingly positive.