Tom Standage’s A History of the World in 6 Glasses is a pint-sized history of humanity and our beverages of choice. Starting with beer and moving through to the cola-based beverages that can be found in red and blue cans in just about any country in the world, Standage takes us on a cruise through the world’s most popular beverages.
The story begins with beer in the ancient world. Beer was first brewed around the time of man’s monumental lifestyle change from hunter-gatherer to farmer. Likely created entirely by accident in the Fertile Crescent, beer was man’s first mass-produced affordable alcohol.
The alcoholic fermentation of fruit was likely discovered much earlier than beer, however the expense of using fermented fruit to produce an alcohol was prohibitive. Beer, made on cereal grains and water was affordable to all people. Wine came to the forefront thanks to the Greek and Roman proclivity for ‘the water of life’.
Skipping much of the dark ages and medieval times, Standage moves to the golden age of exploration and the role Rum played in maritime history, as well as in the history of the slave trade as conducted by almost all European countries and the beginnings of revolutionary rumblings in North America.
Coffee is heralded by the Age of Reason in London, while tea discusses to the age of empire and revolutionary America (think the Boston Tea Party) and cola-based beverages are the era of globalisation.
This is a light historical read. Written in accessible language and broken down into short-story sections, Standage has an excellent knack for writing enjoyable non-fiction.
This is not a book bogged down in referencing and unnecessary detail. This is popular history that anyone could read if they have even a modicum of interest in history. If however, you are more of a buff, this is not a book for you. The over-simplification of complex webs of circumstances and situations make for digestible reading if not quite reassuring accuracy.