Dan Glover's Reviews > The Search For God And Guinness: A Biography Of The Beer That Changed The World

The Search For God And Guinness by Stephen Mansfield
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Aug 28, 12

bookshelves: biography-history
Read in November, 2011

This is the biography of a beer. I've never read the life story of a beer before. I have, however, read several biographies of great people and have always come away with an even greater appreciation of and respect for them, having learned more about them and how they impacted the times in which they lived. Like any good biography, the story of Guinness has bolstered and deepened my admiration for the tall, dark and handsome stout. I appreciate and respect it more now knowing its humble beginnings and the times, often harsh, in which both the beer and the family who brewed it lived and worked.

Mansfield tells the story in a straightforward and sympathetic manner. There is little flourish and, truthfully, not a lot of literary artistry here. But this seems fitting somehow in light of the plain, direct and sympathetic people the Guinnesses were. Mansfield's telling has enough detail to satisfy a popular audience about the family that founded this global institution as well as about the dark nectar itself, all without getting bogged down in brewing minutiae or the generations old gossip and conjecture which often finds its way into books on the Guinness family, much to their (and sometimes their lawyer's) annoyance. The reader is familiarized with the three "streams" of the Guinness family, those who brewed, those who banked, and those who preached, all of whom, in their day, were known as much for their humanitarian and charity work as they were for their vocations.

I appreciated the description of the author's own "beer pilgrimage," coming from a background that had largely viewed beer as a negative force in society to the realization that beer has played a very important and in some cases very central role in shaping many societies for the better, whether improving general health and nutrition, combating addiction to hard liquor or just being a central feature in social and celebratory gatherings, like good food, jolly music and a bright and toasty hearth. And I must say a hearty "amen" to one of the author's conclusions - we need to recover a generational approach to vocation and craftsmanship. Our culture suffers from a strong bias toward the instant and the cheap. Mansfield brings out the multi-generational nature of the Guinness brewing philosophy (and indeed worldview), where a craftsman would apprentice his sons in the family arts and secrets and those sons would grow up into the trade to one day raise up their own sons in the business and pass along the family craft with confidence and pride.

There are some things in life, like eating fast food meat products, where knowing more about the back story won't necessarily improve the experience. I can honestly say that the pints of Guinness I've raised after reading this book have tasted just a little bit richer for having consumed this literary appetizer. I'd give the beer 7 stars and the book 3.5. Cheers.
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