A History of the World in Six Glasses, by Tom Standage, surprised and entertained us as it educated us.
Why this book?
Our son surprised us with a request to take an AP course in world history. We tried very hard to make this entirely his decision, with no pressure from us.
We expect the amount of required work to be, well, daunting. But we were intrigued with his interest in the course, and Cynthia agreed to read (most of?) the books along with him.
Summer reading, sort of
On the Thursday before school started, we went online to retrieve the school supply list and restock his backpack. We had already read and enjoyed the summer reading required by his English teachers (reviewed in our August newsletter), and felt well-prepared for the start of the school year.
Oops. What we didn’t know was that our son also had required summer reading for his AP world history course. We took a deep breath and ordered Standage’s book and started reading. A history of the world in six glasses? Really?
He had us at hello
Standage’s opening hooked us. It caused us to listen as he posed his thesis of using six beverages to describe the history of the world – the rise and fall of empires, the evolution of scientific thought, and likely next frontiers.
Thirst is deadlier than hunger. Deprived of food, you might survive for a few weeks, but deprived of liquid refreshment, you would be lucky to last more than a few days. Only breathing matters more.
Six beverages – beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola. Social evolutions from nomadic hunter-gatherers to organized agrarian groups. The use of alcohol in drinks to ensure they were safe (i.e., not contaminated). The misuse of alcohol to enslave and repress. The use of alcohol as a store or value and medium of exchange. The lucky cocktail accident that caused the British Navy to win battles at sea against the French.
Then, recognition of caffeine’s effect on alertness. Political evolution in one country and repression and revolt in another, differing because of government control and censure of coffeehouse chatter. (Starbucks, anyone?) The connection between tea and opium and the British Empire’s impact on China. The rise of American consumerism and globalization, led throughout the world by American soldiers drinking Coca-Cola, exempt from sugar rationing so the troops could have their sodas.
But it doesn’t end there. We’ll leave the next frontier for you to learn, as Standage closes his book with a look to the future.
World in Six Glasses for high schoolers and adults
Because The World in Six Glasses deals with mature topics of slavery, drug trafficking, and political upheaval, it is suited for older teens and above. We think the author dealt with sensitive topics in a fact-based way that enabled us to understand and connect issues of historical context. And we loved learning how an ancient Greek would be right at home at a dinner party with one of us, today. Cheers!