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A History of the World in 6 Glasses

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3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  7,633 ratings  ·  1,089 reviews
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 21s...more
Paperback, 311 pages
Published May 16th 2006 by Bloomsbury USA (first published May 31st 2005)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Max
First off, let me just say that if the concept of this book interests you, by all means you should read it. It's light and breezy, and you stand to lose very little by taking the time. However, I have to say that my feelings about this book are very conflicted. In terms of quality, the book is clearly delineated into two halves: the half discussing alcoholic drinks, and the half discussing caffeinated drinks. Throughout the first portion of the book, which focuses on beer, wine, and spirits, I w...more
Christian Kitchen
Whoever the marketing guy was behind Erik Larson's "The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America," he was a genius. Because honestly, I don't really want to read a 447 page history of the Chicago World's Fair--and I'm guessing, neither do you. But, if you were hoodwinked into believing (as I was) that Larson's opus was an inspired bit of comparison between the architect of the 1893 World's Fair and a diabolically brilliant psychopath and kept reading b...more
Margitte
I noticed this book on a few friend's 'to-read' lists and thought I should write a review on it since I have read it a few years back and it is still very much part of our family's proud ...intellectual history...8-)

We do not realize how necessary fluids are for our survival. As Tom Standage states, we can live without food for quite a while, but will die very soon of fluid deprivation. In fact, aren't we looking for water on Mars before we migrate there? :-))

Initially I did not plan to buy thi...more
Stefan Burrell
This book, I've read twice. It takes you from the formation of beer and society in Mesopotamia, to the use of wine as currency and how wine types represented a social classification system in Greece and Rome. It went through spirits and colonial time: We only have whiskey because it took too long to ship scotch and brandy by wagon out west, so we made corn whiskey. To how coffee was at first banned in Muslim society and called black wine - till they figured that it caused a different state of mi...more
Jonathan
6 Glasses zeroes in on six liquids--from beer in ancient Mesopotamia to wine and spirits to coffee and tea and finally to cola and the globalization of brands such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola--and targets each as being responsible (or at least culpable) for the shaping of cultures (quite likely), writing itself (quite possible), and industrialization (believable, especially in light of Coke).

Each of the libations receives its proper dues. The organization of the book itself is very well done, and the...more
Casey
This book should really be called "A History of the Western World in 6 Glasses," as it doesn't consider the drinks of South America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, and much of Asia. Indeed, tea is considered only through the lens of the British empire, even though the formal Japanese tea service is arguably more interesting than a British tea party. Even as a Western history, it kind of fails, as there's a large gap between wine production in the Roman empire and the distillation of rum in Barbado...more
Andy
Pop non-fiction with clever gimmick of six beverages to summarize world history. Plenty of interesting factoids.

One problem is that the flip side of the cleverness of the gimmick is that all sorts of beverages are left out. The human consumption of animal milk, for example, is an interesting story with important implications but we don't learn about that.

Another problem is that the research does not appear to be very deep and so some of the factoids don't seem to be true. For example, tea is c...more
Starry
I saw this in my sister's to-read list and, boy, am I glad! This was a really fun book to read.
For me.
It was not so fun for my husband, who was stuck sitting next to me and hearing, "Hey, listen to this --" and "Here's something interesting --". But now I'm done, so he can read all the little leftover bits where I managed to hold my tongue and let him enjoy his own book (which probably wasn't half so interesting).

The book attempts to tell the history of the world using six beverages that illus...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I would probably not have picked this book to read if it were up to me, because I tend to prefer books that go a bit more in-depth on a topic. After all, I read an entire book about one kind of fish (Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World). This was the holiday read for my in-person international book club, so I was able to breeze through it over the holidays.

The author gives a brief overview of the history of six beverages - beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and... Coca-Cola. Yeah...more
Domenico
I seem to be in a phase where I like books that show me the hidden life of the everyday things all around us, especially food and drink. A few years ago I read "Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany", by Bill Buford, which started me on this quest, which was followed by several more books, including "The Omnivore's Dilemma", by Michael Pollan. Most recently I read "The Search for God and Guinness", by Stephen...more
David
An enjoyable and readable book, like an edition of The Economist about things that happened a long time ago. It has the point of view (if you wish, you may call them “biases”) of that magazine (the author's employer), meaning, it is generally cheerful, it admires and celebrates commerce as heroic, and it doesn't spend time getting excessively hot and bothered about the exploitation and misery that inevitably accompanies human commercial activity.

I hope that the author doesn't read the reviews he...more
Ryan
This was a lot of fun. Tom Standage is a writer for The Economist, and this book, A History of the World in 6 glasses, reads well. It takes you through 6 chapters dedicated to: beer, wine, distilled spirits, coffee, tea, and Coke.

Beer was a big part of the development of domestication and agriculture, and he goes through how it probably developed and what customs still survive. Beer used to be drunk from one huge jar, and everyone would use a straw, so it was a very communal thing - one of the...more
Jon Biggerstaff
I enjoy history. I enjoy libations. Standage combines them both to wield a fascinating book on how 6 distinct beverages helped to shape and, at times, even define a time-period. From the Neolithic period and how the Mesopotamians stumbled into making beer, to the Industrial Revolution and the rise of Coca-Cola, it impresses the idea that beverages were not simply for enjoyment but were often catalysts of change in our society and in global influence.
Ben
Tom Standage writes like the sort of man I'd like to chat with while sitting around a bar. He's conversational, interesting and enlightening, but light enough to allow my attention to wander with regularity without missing anything. The downside is that A History of the World in 6 Glasses has difficulty convincing me that anything found between its covers is important or necessary, though I can't knock fun facts and trivia.

Pop history and science books seem to slide in two opposite directions: t...more
Brian Kelley
Beer. Wine. Liquor. Tea. Coffee. Coca-Cola.

In six indi­vid­ual essays, author Tom Standage explores the impact on pol­i­tics, geog­ra­phy, and cul­ture caused by each of these bev­er­ages.

Built on many vignettes of his­to­ry, The His­to­ry of the World in Six Glass­es reads like a text­book com­prised of well-polished and researched infor­ma­tive essays. I coudn't help but think that one sec­tion of this book will show up on an SAT someday. Even though the book is filled with bits of nar­ra­ti...more
Aaron Arnold
Tom Standage has been performing yeoman's work for a long time in terms of illuminating history's continuous connections with the present day. Both this book and The Victorian Internet have good focuses on their respective subjects, but this book, since it's concentrated on beverages, might be of more interest to the generalist, since so much history, as he shows, has revolved around what people have chosen to drink and why.

It's broken up into six main sections:
- Beer in Mesopotamia and Egypt
- W...more
Alec
A visual pun! I am not sure whether I am embarrassed or proud to say this caused me to laugh out loud. As I was sitting here just now staring at the cover of A History of the World in 6 Glasses (a book I finished 2 months ago and about which I have little of interest to say), I noticed that the cover of the book does not actually list the title. Instead, it says "A History of [picture of asian tea-thing] World in 6 Glasses." Ha! Brilliant. I'm not sure what it says about my literacy that I stare...more
Elizabeth
I didn't finish this book. We went to the library Sunday and I decided just to go ahead and return it.

In short:
Beer - Mesopotamia, liquid bread, drink of the people
Wine - Greeks, symposia, democracy
Spirits - Colonialism, Slave Trade, Revolution
Coffee - Age of reason, academic discourse, people aren't drunk all the time
Tea - British Empire
Coke - America

The key point i took away is that what every drink has in common is an alternative to water which could be contaminated. all these drinks involve...more
Xina Uhl
Fascinating world history through the lens of six influential beverages: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, coke, and water. I listened twice and I'll undoubtedly listen a third time. Solid narration, excellent content.

Summary: 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 peri...more
Michael
Standage rambles through history with a look at those beverages that have characterized certain places during certain ages. The six glasses of the title contain (in rough order from oldest to newest) beer, wine, distilled spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. Despite the author's rather bland style, he does a credible job of explaining the importance of the various beverages in history. Writing about the prohibition of wine in Islam on page 88, he asserts, "Only wine made from grapes had been explicit...more
Williwaw
Apologies to all here: much of what follows are notes that I took on some interesting points, so please forgive the rambling, disorganized narrative.

The "Six Glasses" are: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola. This book is a history of the world through the lens of the six glasses, so it's selective in a geographical sense, but fairly comprehensive in a temporal sense.

Standage's book is just the right length: long enough to include important details, but short enough to keep the read...more
Moira Burke
"NPR discussed this last year on All Things Considered, and since then I'd been looking forward to reading it. Standage describes the influence of six beverages (beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola) on world history. More than just in the Boston Tea Party, these drinks were integral to the movement of people, ideas, and industry, and each affected international policy in its own right. For example, beer and wine were originally consumed far more than water, because the fermentation k...more
Tony
I thought it was a pretty entertaining, poppy non-fiction read until the last chapter, where it turns into a weird commercial for Coca Cola and free market capitalism. I guess that's what I get for reading a book written by a staff writer at the Economist.

Up until that point, it was a pretty neat idea - a survey of world history as seen through the predominant beverage of the time. For most of human history drinking water hasn't been safe, and humans have found ways to drink that were safer (and...more
Franz
Alcohol, caffeine, and sugar are three of the greatest substances on earth. Humans enjoy indulging in each, often at the same time, to alter our state of mind. Understanding how and when we became "hooked" is a very interesting topic, and one well explained in "A History of the World in Six Glasses". This book was an approach to the history of the world through the looking glass of the discovery and growth of 6 beverages: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. I enjoyed the book and was int...more
Mary Catelli
This got recommended at Lunacon at more than one panel I was at. The title is a bit hyperbolic. The six drinks discussed are indeed significant in the history of beverages, and their adoption occured at otherwise historically significant times, but sometimes they were just harbringers, or even merely coinciding -- though sometimes they were indeed movers and shakers in history. Then, the drinks by themselves can be fascinating.


Beer is the first, and obviously, the least well-documented, since it...more
Tom
This books was a very interesting concept. Look at how six beverages are linked to various times and places in history. While the beer chapter lacked a bit for me, this may have been due to the fact that it was from the Neolithic Period, and lacked a lot of the excellent primary source material that Enlightenment coffee houses or rum drinking ship captains are accompanied by. Still it was a fascinating look at how civilization and drinks are linked. I wish it had better references and notes, but...more
Trisha
Troutdale, January 19th

A very dead-pan fact heavy book, which isn't a bad thing (I mean, don't pick it up thinking it will be a novel type story), but I thought some of the stories could have had more personality or "voice" instead of just a list of what happened. it was very high school text book. Not a good thing to mimic.

I also found multiple sections repeating themselves. It's bad enough that I've had to read 4 pages in order to understand they drank beer out of a huge bowl, but I don't need...more
Sowmya
Very Intrigued by the title and impressed. How very innovative dividing the history of the world into different liquid states...
Did you know Beer was born with the civilized world and the quest to quench out thirst that sparked the invention of wine and coffee and tea ended with the invention of 'COKE'. I am still looking for data to refute that theory. COKE is it!!? Perhaps at least for now.

First Impression: Very Informative.

Literary Value: Can't lie, this book is just scribbled notes in place...more
Wendy
This book is kind of an odd duck - a little 'dry' (no pun intended) for a popular work but a bit too breezy for an academic one. I can't help comparing it with other works like 'The Complete History of Tea' or the single-buject ones like 'Salt' or 'Rum'.

It had a lot of vaguely interesting bits - did you know that a Russian general contacted the CocaCola company to request a special un-colored syrup so that he could enjoy it without being seen as "westernized" ? But so many places the author woul...more
Jennifer
Okay, I thought this book was alright (i.e. the 3 stars). It was an interesting choice of topic and a great way to get a very loose background of knowledge for my world history course next year. One thing that I did find quite annoying was the extreme repetitiveness of each section of the book. I felt like the author had the same exact outline for each beverage, and just filled in different details. Also, he made quite a few extremely sketchy claims, but all in all, it was a manageable read
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Casual Readers: A History of the World in 6 Glasses 26 36 Aug 18, 2013 08:25AM  
Huntsville-Madiso...: Staff Pick - A History of the World in 6 Glasses 1 9 May 04, 2013 08:31AM  
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2636
Tom Standage is a journalist and author from England. A graduate of Oxford University, he has worked as a science and technology writer for The Guardian, as the business editor at The Economist, has been published in Wired, The New York Times, and The Daily Telegraph, and has published five books, including The Victorian Internet[1][2]. This book explores the historical development of the telegrap...more
More about Tom Standage...
An Edible History of Humanity The Victorian Internet The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine Writing on the Wall: Social Media - The First 2,000 Years The Neptune File: A Story of Astronomical Rivalry and the Pioneers of Planet Hunting

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“Greek customs such as wine drinking were regarded as worthy of imitation by other cultures. So the ships that carried Greek wine were carrying Greek civilization, distributing it around the Mediterranean and beyond, one amphora at a time. Wine displaced beer to become the most civilized and sophisticated of drinks—a status it has maintained ever since, thanks to its association with the intellectual achievements of Ancient Greece.” 3 likes
“A billion hours ago, human life appeared on earth. A billion minutes ago, Christianity emerged. A billion seconds ago, the Beatles changed music. A billion Coca-Colas ago was yesterday morning. —Robert Goizueta, chief executive of the Coca-Cola Company, April 1997” 2 likes
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