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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Book Review: The History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage

6 Glasses

The History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage
Paperback, 311 pages
Walker Publishing Company
May 16, 2006

Genre: Non-Fiction, Food & Beverage

Source: Purchased for my Seminar on World History Masters class

“As the tides of history have ebbed and flowed, different drinks have come to prominence in different times, places and cultures, from stone-age villages to Ancient Greek dining rooms or Enlightenment coffeehouses. Each one became popular when it met a particular need or aligned with a historical trend: in some cases, it then went on to influence the course of history in unexpected ways. Just as archaeologists divide history into different periods based on the use of different materials — the stone age, the bronze age, the iron age, and so on — it is also possible divide world history into periods dominated by different drinks. Six drinks in particular — beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and cola — chart the flow of world history. Three 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.”

This was a very interesting approach to looking at world history. Being a person that loves cooking and food – I somehow had not thought about food history or how beverages affected world choices. I was also excited to read this book for my Seminar in World History class because, to be honest, the 3 other texts were relative dry and boring compared to this one.

This book traces how 6 drinks have influenced world history – beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. Each drink has two chapters dedicated to it – the first typically showing the evolution of the drink itself and the second spends time exploring the historical effects of the drink. When looking at the effects of the drinks the author typically explores medical, commercial/consumer, governmental, and religious implications. Some of the drinks have significant world implications – tea was significant in the forward movement of the American Revolution; cola was significant in the globalization economy; coffee was important at providing locations for the Enlightenment to grow from. I’m glad that the epilogue took a look at the impact of water – since water is the most important beverage in the world.

This book would certainly be a great companion work to go along with a standard world history text. It not only supports the standard history, but it gives a new perspective which makes a more well-rounded historical reading experience. A lot of history texts do not necessarily look at the daily human experience aspect of history, but rather focus on the big picture. While this does look at big picture, it also gets you a little closer to the human experience.

There were really only one or two complaints that I have with this book. The most significant is that it focuses primarily on the experience in Europe and the Ancient Egyptian/Mesopotamian cultures. There was brief mention of the Chinese with regard to tea, but I think that it would have better benefitted from some discussion of Africa (beyond Egypt) and Latin/South America. Alcohol was used significantly in ceremonies in Latin American cultures and it would have been interesting to explore the influence there. There was certainly relevance in other parts of the world – especially regarding alcohol and (I would imagine) coffee. The other smaller issue that I had with this book is that some of the conclusions that the author draws seems to be a little stretching it – however, possibly plausible. I would have liked to have a little more discussion regarding some of these conclusions before I would believe them.

Author Tom Standage also has similarly written An Edible History of Humanity as well as other books such as The Victorian Internet, The Turk, and The Neptune File. You can visit Standage’s blog for additional information about the books. If you would like to preview the book before reading it, why not try out this preview from Google books?

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).


Copyright © 2013 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I hadn't heard about this book before but it sounds fascinating. It's too bad that it didn't focus on more places!

    1. It would have been really good if it focused on more locations - however for a text book it was quite interesting.

  2. What an incredibly fun topic?! Since I enjoy all of these beverages I would like reading their history. Thanks Heather :)

    1. It's not your normal run of the mill history.


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