Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A History Of The World In Six Glasses / by Tom Standage

It seems that the entire history of the world as we know it can be reduced to 6 drinks. And that's not just fodder for idle barstool conversations--or a mere drunken hypothesis. Author and historian Standage backs up his claim with some pretty fascinating evidence and quirky yet true factoids, examining how some of the world's most pivotal civilization's, over time, were deeply in-depted to the development and mass dissemination of one very diverse six-pack. In vague chronological order, Standage explains how beer, wine, spirits (hard liquor), tea, coffee and cola have not only been downed en masse over the centuries, but have all contributed in a very special way to shaping our world.
The author starts things off with a nod to his personal favorite, beer, and its role as a drink which became staple in more agrarian societies which could employ domesticated farming methods in place of migratory hunting and gathering practices. The drink was deemed laudable in part because of its uplifting effect, but also no less because the fermentation process--incorporating harvested hops and barley--made the drink a safer alternative to other beverages (water sources at the time always of questionable purity). The superiority of wine throughout the classic period is not discounted and is seen as a unifying force behind the Mediterranean civilizations of the ancient times, the drink a source of land and financial capital, not to mention a catalyst for customary feasts and a primary aspect of private life. The era of mercantile trade and global mass-acculturation helped the societies of the Middle-east, Arabs primarily, disperse their various spiritous beverages--rum, brandy, whisky, etc.--and their likewise revolutionary (and lucrative) distillation processes.
Coffee and tea are presented as the major role players each were in the booming imperial age. Coffee, with its rather humble Middle-eastern beginnings where it was used for daily meal sustenance, soon became one of the most fashionable drinks in Europe and then the New World where it found a soaring market and ripe soil in South America. Tea shares something of a rather controversial lineage. English merchants essentially used Tea, and its coveted station in British domestic life, to offset trading losses when Opium was outlawed and inadvertently thrust the Chinese into financial ruin. Cola, specifically Coca-cola, and the onset of the carbonated drink is seen as a symbol of American commercial empire and the rise of western cultural dominance, the drink's ever-present marketing image deemed an appropriate posterchild for the modern age. All in all, this book is pop history at its best and the anecdotal pieces are sure to catch on with interested readers. (394.12 STANDAGE)

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