Yes, I am aware, you cannot drink a book. We’ll get back to beer reviews soon enough. But today, something a little different: a book review.
A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage is not a new book and most people to whom I sing its praises have at least heard vaguely of it. It’s no wonder: the first fifteen years of the new millenium saw a wave of culinary anthropology/history books hit mainstream shelves. The Food Network’s popularity may be partly to blame for this, but it’s certainly nothing to be unhappy about. If people develop a passion for food and reading and reading about food, I’m all for it.
It is the year 2006. With farmers’ markets cropping up all over, a new generation of celebrity chefs hitting the airwaves, the slow food movement picking up steam, and more and more depressing news about the obesity and diabetes epidemics coming out all the time, people were rethinking their relationship with food for a number of reasons. The term Locavore would soon be coined and the anti-GM and organic farming movements were fairly well-established, even if not mainstream.
Enter Tom Standage, British journalist and history buff. Known for using historical analogies in writing about science and modern technology (see his more recent work, 2014’s, The Victorian Internet), Standage looked backwards at six beverages that deeply influence the development of both ancient and modern economies. Somewhat ahead of the curve (before Michael Pollan’s beloved The Omnivore’s Dilemma was released), he researched and penned a book that would teach a casual reader a little bit about economics and a lot of about food.
A History of the World in 6 Glasses addresses the role that beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola played in the rise of empires, both ancient and modern. It is well-written and accessible and never really drags (unless you’re just not into non-fiction at all, and then perhaps this is not for you), though Standage’s style isn’t exceptionally humorous or light as some other pop culture historians’. This is not a deep dive history text, nor is it extremely focused on the beverages themselves as food items – rather, it skims the surface of world history using these drinks as focal points with which to examine macroeconomics.
I enjoyed the book thoroughly and found it to be a great beach read a few years ago. It’s never too complex and always stays relatable to the average reader. I highly recommend it to anyone with an itch to learn more about what we drink and why.