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A History of the World in 6 Glasses (2005)

by Tom Standage

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,046655,441 (3.75)123
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 twenty-first 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 different 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 beverage the same way again.… (more)
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English (64)  Spanish (1)  All languages (65)
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
A History as promised but without any real spark, for me anyway. I have read other not dissimilar analyses - as to how the cultivation of various food and drink stuffs was a strategic element in the expansion of British influence, which made more of an impact. ( )
  DramMan | May 11, 2020 |
Breezy read, very fast and enjoyable, offers insight into the broader scope of the beverages we preferred during turning points in civilization. It might attribute too much casual power to those drinks, but they are a good scaffold and lens to look at human history. A lot of neat little tidbits, too.

The only downside is the lack of references, though that's common in this kind of book. I'd like to see a Gleick-like bibliography at the end, as I know some of the information is rounded or overly-summarized. But it works. ( )
  jtth | May 4, 2020 |
The author provides an interesting perspective on the influence that various drinks had on civilization, culture and the spread of ideas and empires from the Stone Age to the 21st Century. He starts of with beer in Mesopotamia and Egypt; progresses to wine in Greece and Rome; then the concoction and trade of various types of alcoholic beverages distilled from fermented plant matter and industrial "leftovers" (e.g. molasses); to the distribution and sobering influence of coffee; to the export of and wars involving tea; to the invention and global popularity coca-cola; and finally to the source of all these beverage, water.

This is history told in a light and breezy manner with a narrow subject and geological focus, and no depth. It was entertaining, and the beverage perspective novel, but most of the historical information wasn't new to me (except the cola chapters). I don't particularly have an interest in alcohol, coffee or tea either, so this book might appeal more to someone who actually enjoys drinking the stuff.

( )
  ElentarriLT | Mar 24, 2020 |
As a history book, Standage is able to skillfully make it actually an enjoyable read. The overlying theme of drinks and their effect on history is a fresh take, and it gives the reader a breath of fresh air from the monotonous bore that makes up much of historical literature. Unfortunately, Standage doesn't allow himself to deviate from this rigid format in an attempt to promote his ideals. This ends up leaving the story and its narrative feeling forced, static, and constraining. It is this factor that decided on the rating that I gave this book.

It is always important to support your thesis and main idea in his story, but Standage takes it a little too far. The extreme detail conjured up to prove his various points on the importance of drink felt tedious. Standage was doing way too much to prove very little. His writing style used made him seem like a conspiracy theorist connecting his points with red twine. While some ideas were thought-provoking, others seemed to be barely attributable to Standage's main idea.

One of the factors that I particularly enjoyed about the book, and what, in my eyes, saved it from a much worse rating was its ability to put forth a new idea and support it well enough to make a compelling story. As I mentioned before, the main idea of the story seems new, exciting, and fresh. It represents a different way that one can view history, and therefore makes it deserve a read. ( )
  Mross21 | Nov 5, 2019 |
Light and easy to read, this book could have used a few drinking songs. The history of tea within China is minimal, so that it's later arrival in Europe than distilled spirits and coffee is responsible for it's placement after those drinksin the book. Nor did the history and influence of alcoholic beverages vanish in the 19th & 20th centuries, so the structure of the book somewhat obscures that. ( )
  quondame | Apr 22, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tom Standageprimary authorall editionscalculated
Runnette, SeanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my parents
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Thirst is deadlier than hunger.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 different 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 beverage the same way again.

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