A History of the World in 6 Glasses
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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.
Turk, with a book about six beverages that really did change the world, he had the grace to take both the title and the story in a new direction."—Stephen Meuse, Boston Globe "Memorable facts . . . abound in Tom Standage's delightful A History of the World in Six Glasses."—Jeffrey Tannenbaum, Bloomberg.com "A clever, tight retelling of human history as it refracts through six beverages: beer, wine, spirits, tea, coffee and Coca-Cola . . . Raise a glass to Standage for writing this one. His
Yet that is what determined the fate of Marcus Antonius, a Roman politician and a renowned orator. In 87 BCE, he found himself on the wrong side of one of Rome's many interminable power struggles. Gaius Marius, an elderly general, had seized power and was ruthlessly hunting down supporters of his rival, Sulla. Marcus Antonius sought refuge in the house of an associate of far lower social status, hoping that nobody would think of looking for him in such a poor man's house. His host, however,
drunk in excess. It has been suggested that the Christian church's need for communion wine played an important role in keeping wine production going during the dark ages after the fall of Rome. That is an exaggeration, however, despite the close links between Christianity and wine. The amount of wine required for the Eucharist was miniscule, and by 1100 it was increasingly the case that only the celebrating priest drank wine from the chalice, while the congregation just received bread. Most wine
coffeehouse boastfulness was the unwitting trigger for the publication of the greatest book of the Scientific Revolution. On a January evening in 1684, a coffeehouse discussion between Hooke, Halley, and Wren turned to the theory of gravity, the topic of much speculation at the time. Between sips of coffee, Halley wondered aloud whether the elliptical shapes of planetary orbits were consistent with a gravitational force that diminished with the inverse square of distance. Hooke declared that this
the nineteenth century did it become feasible to tackle a problem that had bedeviled humans for centuries: maintaining an adequate supply of freshwater. Where previous generations turned to other drinks as substitutes, it is now possible to address the problem of contamination directly, through water purification and other improvements in sanitation. Water's growing popularity, in other words, suggests that the danger of contamination is finally receding. But the reality is rather more