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A History of the World in 6 Glasses | [Tom Standage]

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Throughout human history, certain drinks have done much more than just quench thirst. As Tom Standage relates with authority and charm, six of them have had a surprisingly pervasive influence on the course of history, becoming the defining drink during a pivotal historical period. A History of the World in 6 Glasses tells the story of humanity from the Stone Age to the 21st century through the lens of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola.
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Audible Editor Reviews

The precursor to his equally excellent book on hunger through the ages, An Edible History of Humanity, Tom Standage here charts the developmental course of beverages and their significance for human progress. Standage is really a journalist and a technologist, so A History of the World in Six Glasses is not your average history book. The author is clearly well-researched, but it’s his parlaying of the facts into a cohesive evolutionary narrative that keeps things interesting. Liquid refreshment is an essential part of our existence, and Standage doesn’t simply map out the parallel developments of drink and civilization, but more excitingly, builds a strong case for how each drink has made foundational contributions to its era.

Earphones Award winner and Audie Award-winning producer Sean Runnette does a terrific job of letting beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola speak for themselves. Standage has set forth a tone that is highly interested, but not pedantic or overly exclamatory. Runnette knows just what it takes to fade away into the background, neither bombastically lecturing to the listener nor merely monotonously reading Standage’s text. Every pause is justified and every consonant is crisp. This is nothing less than expected from Runnette, who has been in the audiobook business for more than a decade and is the son of Grammy Award-winning producer John Runnette. As the beverage cultures advance, Runnette increasingly recedes, leaving the text to shine on its own surprising merits.

No matter what your choice of drink, hearing more about its influence on the world is actually quite engrossing. Of particular interest is the appendix at the end, where you can learn about exactly which modern beers most closely resemble the ale of yore, which ancient blends of tea are still available today, and so on. Standage also gives us a taste of the future and comes full circle by speculating on the new millennial prospects for water, that most basic of all beverages. An underrated gem of scholarship, A History of the World in Six Glasses is completely worth the listen for all the fascinating tidbits you will soak up and then deliver the next time you’re pouring a glass of wine at a dinner party, or meeting someone for coffee. —Megan Volpert

Publisher's Summary

Throughout human history, certain drinks have done much more than just quench thirst. As Tom Standage relates with authority and charm, six of them have had a surprisingly pervasive influence on the course of history, becoming the defining drink during a pivotal historical period.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses tells the story of humanity from the Stone Age to the 21st century through the lens of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. Beer was first made in the Fertile Crescent and by 3000 B.C.E. was so important to Mesopotamia and Egypt that it was used to pay wages. In ancient Greece, wine became the main export of her vast seaborne trade, helping spread Greek culture abroad. Spirits such as brandy and rum fueled the Age of Exploration, fortifying seamen on long voyages and oiling the pernicious slave trade. Although coffee originated in the Arab world, it stoked revolutionary thought in Europe during the Age of Reason, when coffeehouses became centers of intellectual exchange. And hundreds of years after the Chinese began drinking tea, it became especially popular in Britain, with far-reaching effects on British foreign policy. Finally, though carbonated drinks were invented in 18th-century Europe, they became a 20th-century phenomenon, and Coca-Cola in particular is the leading symbol of globalization.

For Tom Standage, each drink is a different kind of technology, a catalyst for advancing culture by which he demonstrates the intricate interplay of different civilizations. You may never look at your favorite beverage the same way again.

©2005 Tom Standage (P)2011 Tantor

What the Critics Say

"Standage starts with a bold hypothesis - that each epoch, from the Stone Age to the present, has had its signature beverage - and takes readers on an extraordinary trip through world history." (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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Performance
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  •  
    09-03-12
    09-03-12
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    "Great way to look at world history"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes, The topic is fascinating- details well researched ( I think)


    What aspect of Sean Runnette’s performance would you have changed?

    His voice is boring ! Even if there is no dialogue in a book please modulate your voice !


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No


    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Anika Page 02-07-14
    Anika Page 02-07-14 Member Since 2011
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    "A History of America in 6 glasses"
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    If more of the world had been covered in this history, I would have been far more satisfied. As it is, he ignored important facts in order to cover America rather than the whole world.


    What could Tom Standage have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

    By covering more of the known world, instead of giving a perfectly good history of America, and ignoring the rest of the known world.

    Also, by checking his facts more carefully. There are a few hearsay fragments of information which are being offered as fact instead of the more boring reality. I know for a fact that some of what I was being told is not considered correct by actual historians and people who study this particular subject. Why not tell the truth?


    How could the performance have been better?

    More pauses during the presentation, especially between paragraphs and chapters. In fact the only way to know that a chapter had changed over was when there was a severe lack of gap between the sentences. The occasional beat between paragraphs and between chapters would really have made the performance a better listening experience, add to flow (I know that sounds counterintuitive, but it honestly would) and improve the whole performance.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    The stories and hearsay fragments are excellent, I just wish that more of them could be based on fact.


    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jodinofasgard Long Island, NY 01-14-14
    Jodinofasgard Long Island, NY 01-14-14 Member Since 2012

    Bigzig

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    "I'll drink to that"
    Would you listen to A History of the World in 6 Glasses again? Why?

    I don't think it is that kind of book, no. But I would recommend it. Very interesting and satisfying


    What was one of the most memorable moments of A History of the World in 6 Glasses?

    I loved the "Guns, Germs and Steel" like reference to the role alcohol played in preventing certain water borne disease. I especially liked the story behind the slang term "limey" for Englishmen, which I had never heard before


    What about Sean Runnette’s performance did you like?

    Understatement and poise, it was not a bombastic read, appropriately in my view


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    We are what we drink


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mark Raglan, New Zealand 01-10-13
    Mark Raglan, New Zealand 01-10-13 Member Since 2011

    I love listening to books when cycling, paddleboarding, etc but I press pause when I need to concentrate. Its safer & I don't lose the plot!

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    "Really Refreshing"

    It seemed a bit of an odd premise, to describe the World's history in terms of 6 drinks, but it worked a treat. Starting with beer, the author progresses through wine, spirits, coffee tea and coke and weaves it skillfully into the history of civilisation.

    I learnt a lot. (e.g. I was surprised that beer arose so early in our history) and I was also entertained by countless anecdotes about these beverages: How the British navy was stronger and fitter than its rivals because of the serendipitous use of lime juice to flavour and preserve rum (thus preventing scurvey); how coffee houses in London evolved into institutions such as the Stock Exchange and Lloyds of London; how coke was manufactured in a transparent form and packaged like vodka in the soviet era to be acceptable to the Russian communists.

    The narrator was pretty good, although he had the annoying habit of rushing the chapter titles so you didn't realise when a new one had begun. Aside from this, the book was one of my most 'listenable' downloads.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pierre Gauthier Montréal 11-18-12
    Pierre Gauthier Montréal 11-18-12 Listener Since 2010
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    "Fun!"
    Any additional comments?

    This work presents the history of six drinks that are popular today and that appeared at various moments in the past: beer, wine, rum, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola.

    This provides a pretext to summarize the history of mankind and to highlight links that are often overlooked, say between rum production and the slave trade or between tea consumption in the UK and the prevalence of opium in 19th century China.

    Some may feel that the author is at times overly generous in his assertions, for instance that coffee is a direct cause of the French Revolution.

    Still, the original approach and the brevity of the work make it highly enjoyable.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kathleen A 08-21-12
    Kathleen A 08-21-12 Member Since 2015
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    "Not at all boring!"
    Any additional comments?

    I was surprised that I enjoyed this book so much. I bought it on sale, and I saw many great reviews, but I figured those were the history buffs out there that read encyclopedias as children, likely. :0) But it was very inexpensive, so I bought it and listened. Wow. Very interesting and very quick-moving, I loved hearing history I knew told from the perspective of the most popular drink of the day/region. My 11 year old heard me talking to my husband about it and snagged the book on his iPod. He really liked it as well, listening to it over the weekend. Very good book.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    James 02-26-15
    James 02-26-15 Member Since 2015
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    "Healthy Drinking"
    Would you listen to A History of the World in 6 Glasses again? Why?

    I not only would I have. Because I read An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The way the book stressed humanities common need for safe hydration without which man may not have been able to build a complex society above a small village level.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    This is not a romance novel. There were no scenes.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Yes, When I learned what jerks the East India Company (EIC) was to people in India and China. I was moved to anger over the use of opium to get what the EIC wanted from China. It is a good thing it was abolished in 1858 following the rebellion in India in 1957.


    Any additional comments?

    The author’s thesis is understanding civilization through man’s need for safe and healthy hydration. He divides world history into six stages based on the dominate beverage of the age. The first three drinks (beer, wine, & distilled spirits) are alcohol based and allowed civilization to develop because of the germ killing antiseptic aspect of alcohol based drinks that could be mixed with water to purify it. The next three drinks (coffee, tea, & Cola) are caffeine based drinks two of which require water to be boiled in preparation for brewing thus making the water safe to drink. The cola drinks all developed alongside pasteurization became a common manufacturing process. The last glass traced the history of Coke Cola, its origin snake oil medicine era, its image development, its spread during World War II, and political lightening rod reaction to it as it assumed emblematic icon status representing American culture.

    The fifth glass the age of tea has a high strong connection with another book I recently listened to. It is “An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America” by Nick Bunker. The first part of this section could serve as an outline of the aforementioned book. The East India Company with their bought and paid for parliament MP got permission to ship tea from China directly to America undercutting the price of smuggled tea from the Netherlands. The distribution of that tea, including a tax, was to be under the monopolistic control of agents of the East India Company. A broadside of the day warned that if this came to pass the East India Company would enslave America as it had done the residents of the India sub-continent. The Americans revolted and won their independence. China did not do so well in its dispute with the East India Company. That dispute resulted in loss of control over its own territory and economy. Eventually the East India Company developed cultivation of tea in India which undercut the value of the tea that China was providing. This development leads to China’s utter ruin economically and politically; although it takes a hundred years for this to happen.

    I do agree with another reviewer that book is not all inclusive of all beverages and areas of the world. This book does seem to focus on main stream western society development. Thus Russian vodka, Mexican tequila, Fermented mare’s milk of Mongolia, and Asian rice wine got a bit of a pass and are not addressed in the book. It is a flaw in a book that labels itself as A History of the World. It is perhaps better understood as a history of Western culture development. I submit that if the author would have been more comprehensive the book would have been twice as long and have only interested a small group of scholars.

    The above should be enough to wet your thirst for knowledge. If you want to listen to something that is cute, vacuous, and would not tax the intellect of an average 10 year old, then find another book.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    hermanous Frederick, MD, United States 04-16-14
    hermanous Frederick, MD, United States 04-16-14 Member Since 2013
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    "Entertaining but not complete"

    I really enjoyed this book, and thought the author did a good job, especially when recounting the origins of wine or beer, in tracing the history of these two drinks. And this book is definitely worth listening to, but my disappointment is with the incomplete nature of the book, mostly in the spirits section. Rum and whiskey are given ample time, but what about vodka's obvious influence on Russia and how did that (or did not) impact the kind of societies that developed there? Or tequila and Mexico? What about rice spirits in Asian contents, whether sake or something else? Without touching on these other topics, the work seems slanted to the obvious Western European culture, but we're missing, I assume, some wonderful histories of these drinks in these far flung cultures.

    But...the stuff that's in here is nice. I just wish the author would have invested more time in a more comprehensive picture.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cindy United States 01-19-13
    Cindy United States 01-19-13 Member Since 2015

    Say something about yourself!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Learned a lot!"

    Enjoyed this book, especially about beer, tea, coffee. Author made a story out of a lot of information. I was pleasantly surprised and felt I learned a lot. Recommended!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Harry Seattle, WA, United States 09-24-12
    Harry Seattle, WA, United States 09-24-12 Member Since 2014
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    "Would have been a GREAT Vanity Fair article"
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    As I say, would have been a great article in Vanity Fair


    What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

    The premise and outline was fascinating


    Which character – as performed by Sean Runnette – was your favorite?

    You mean which beverage? LOL


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    no


    Any additional comments?

    Was too long for the depth of the material, but a great premise, well written.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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