A History of the World in 6 Glasses, Tom Standage


A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Cover of "A History of the World in 6 Gla...

Cover of A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Author: Tom Standage

Website: http://tomstandage.wordpress.com

First Edition: 2005

Original language: English

Summary: Following human history through predominant beverages, this book presents history in an interesting and different light.  Highlighting the human need for water, this book chronicles how drinks – beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola- have influenced and shaped the course of history.  From the author’s website, http://tomstandage.wordpress.com “[t]hree contain alcohol and three contain caffeine, but what they all have in common is that each drink was the defining drink during a pivotal historical period, from antiquity to the present day.”


“[S]haring a drink with someone is a universal symbol of hospitality and friendship.  It signals that the person offering the drink can be trusted, by demonstrating that it is not poisoned or otherwise unsuitable for consumption.”

“[w]hen drinking alcohol in a social setting, the clinking of glasses symbolically reunites the glasses into a single vessel of shared liquid.”

“The practice of raising a glass to wish someone good health, a happy marriage, or a safe passage into the afterlife, or to celebrate the successful completion of a project, is the modern echo of the ancient idea that alcohol has the power to invoke supernatural forces.”

“The notion that coffee counteracts drunkenness remains prevalent to this day, though there is little truth to it; coffee makes someone who has drunk alcohol feel more alert, but actually reduces the rate at which alcohol is removed from the bloodstream.”


This book gave me a lot to think about and was an interesting and different way to view history.  I loved the way the author divided periods in human development according to the prominent drink of the time.

I learned so many things that I didn’t know.  Considering this is a book about drinks, half of which are alcoholic, if nothing else, you’ll sound pretty smart at your next cocktail party.  For example, as quoted above, sharing a drink from the same vessel with someone means that the person offering can be trusted; and when glasses are clinked, they are symbolically reunited into a shared vessel.  I love that and never knew what clinking glasses meant.  Drinking to someone’s health or toasting to a special occasion is a throwback to the belief in alcohol’s supernatural powers.

Another fun fact is that despite popular belief, coffee does not make you less, drunk.  It actually makes you more alert, but slows down the rate at which your body gets rid of alcohol.  Finally, Twining’s is the oldest commercial logo in continuous use, first erected in 1787 by Richard Twining as a sign above the door to his tea shop.  There are tons more, but you’ll just have to read the book to learn them all.

I found the discussion of water rising to prominence once again extremely interesting and timely.  Access to water is deemed by the UN to be “a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights,” and it is interesting that human drinking pattern have returned to where they began: water.  The author points out some really interesting issues related to the bottled water craze.  For instance, bottled water sales are highest in the developed world, where tap water is abundant and safe to drink.  This is more interesting when you stop to think that ounce per ounce, bottled water in the US is more expensive than gasoline, AND tap water is more regulated than bottled water.  For these reasons, according to Standage, “safe water has become so abundant in the developed world that people can afford to shun the tap water under their noses and drink bottled water instead.  Since both kinds are safe, the sort of water one drinks has become a lifestyle choice.

‘In contrast, for many people in the developing world, access to water remains a matter of life and death.”  The discussion is interesting because in a country like Greece, the government controls the prices of bottled water to ensure that prices do not rise too high.

The last few sentence of the book sum it up perfectly: “When you next raise some beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, or Coca-Cola to your lips, think about how it reached you across space and time, and remember that it contains more than mere alcohol or caffeine.  There is history, too, amid its swirling depths.”  I will never look at these drinks the same way again…

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