Chapters 7-12 of A History of the World in 6 glasses outline the “other” 3 drinks, the non-alcoholic beverages that changed history. Up to this point, alcoholic beverages provided a much needed source of purified liquid, as well as nourishment (to say nothing of their entertainment value!). Through the brewing of beer, pressing of wine, and distillation of spirits, the incidence and impact of water-borne disease was greatly diminished, increasing life-expectancy. The usefulness and desire for alcohol also led to it becoming one of the first forms of fungible currency, and led to the development of rudimentary forms of accounting.
The only problem? People were wandering around drunk all the time!
Coffee, Tea, and Coca-Cola took the world from a general state of ‘buzzed’ to mental clarity in daily life. Coffee and tea gave birth to some of the greatest philosophical and political thinking in modern history, as well as fueled the Industrial Revolution. Coca-Cola took the new freedom found in democracy and spread it from the United States around the world, one country at a time. These three drinks still have an enormous impact on daily life; it’s difficult to imagine a social gathering without one or all of them available!
Starting this book, I was skeptical that history could be framed in terms of six beverages. But it’s clear that the author, Tom Standage, took great pride in researching this book (which is evident by the detailed appendix and source list) and re-told history in a very easy-going, laid-back manner. Luckily, the learning doesn’t stop there, as the class will be meeting Mr. Standage as one of the guest speakers at the London residency. Hopefully he’ll stick around for a few pints afterwards.