Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Booknote: A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Title: A History of the World in 6 Glasses
Author: Tom Standage
Publisher Information: New York: Walker & Co., 2005
ISBN: 0-8027-1447-1
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: History, popular culture
311 pages (including a sources list and an index)

Reading Tom Standage's books is always a pleasure for me. I've read The Victorian Internet, and I was captivated by The Turk. In this book, Mr. Standage looks at the history of the world through our beverages. The six glasses are beer, wine, spirits (whiskey, rum), coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola. Each beverage illustrates a particular time in history from antiquity (beer) to the British Empire (tea) to today's globalization (Coke). The book is engaging as well as entertaining. For instance, we learn how the custom of toasting before a drink goes back to ancient rituals. We see that the coffeehouses of the Enlightenment helped fuel that intellectual movement; there's a reason why activities such as reading and study go so well with a cup of coffee. In a way, some of that survives in the small, independent coffeehouses of today. No, Starbucks does not quite count; its corporate ambiance is not quite right to things as intimate as reading or writing in a journal or even a poetry reading. Standage does a good job of weaving the narratives of these six beverages into a story that's well worth reading, a true adventure. I'll definitely be a little more aware the next time I raise one of those glasses. And for the record, I do partake of all of them at one time or another (coffee more than tea, and wine more than beer or spirits, and I do like Coke). I do recommend the book for history readers as well as for nonfiction readers seeking an interesting tale.

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