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Editorial 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

Critic Reviews

"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

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  • Anthony
  • Werribee, Australia
  • 01-29-13

A Fascinating History

What did you love best about A History of the World in 6 Glasses?

Very interesting concept, well researched and written.

What did you like best about this story?

The detail of the subject matter; it was concise yet thorough.

Have you listened to any of Sean Runnette’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No, but he certainly reads well and I would be pleased to hear him read again.

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

I found the history of beer to be particularly engaging, as I had no idea it was one of the earliest beverages ever made.

Any additional comments?

Highly recommended to any history buffs.

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  • Robert
  • United States
  • 01-28-13

Should be a highschool required reading

Where does A History of the World in 6 Glasses rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I usually only listen to action fiction, it's pretty much the only thing that keeps my attention. Thought I would take a chance with this book. I was not disappointed.

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

Hearing how far CocaCola reaches.

Have you listened to any of Sean Runnette’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

no

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

no

Any additional comments?

Well worth the listen.

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Tasty Way at Categorizing the History of the World

What did you like best about this story?

I liked how the impact of each drink and it's impact on society was broken down but not overstated. Obviously there were many factors that contributed to the significant events of human history but Tom Standage shows how these beverages truly were a big part of the equation.

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

I'm being a little picky here but I thought it would have been nice if he took a little pause before reading the section titles within the book. It had to register in my mind that it wasn't the next line of the book but actually a topic/subtopic. It doesn't detract from the book but I just like to know by some kind of change of inflection or a brief pause that this is the beginning of a new section.

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

While it was a shorter book than I normally listen to, I did take a break after each beverage was discussed. I decided to actually have a class/cup of each of the beverages under discussion. I thought it was fun to drink along with the stories.

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  • Warren
  • Goulburn, Australia
  • 01-07-13

Fascinating! A book for everyone

For anyone with an interest in History then this is a book you must read. I never realized the connections with these six beverages and how they ultimately changed civilization.

Apart from the history buffs I recommend the book to anyone who has the slightest interest and appreciation for beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and coke cola! I guess this means everyone?

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Drink it in.

A fascinating review of several historical trends and how they were shaped by commodities we largely take for granted today. Highly recommended for food and beverage lovers.

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  • rodi
  • NORWALK, CT, United States
  • 12-28-12

Fascinating tid-bits

This was a curious book about how our choice of drink through the ages has evolved and may have impacted our overall civilization development. It makes for great party conversations!

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This reader needs new dentures

Where does A History of the World in 6 Glasses rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I love the story of different topics under an interesting umbrella. The history of the world wrapped around what people drank is fascinating.

What other book might you compare A History of the World in 6 Glasses to and why?

There is a wonderful book about French food based on the fat used in that cuisine.

What didn’t you like about Sean Runnette’s performance?

Really I can't identify what his tongue was doing. Sure sounded like dentures, but he looks young. Irritating listening to an interesting topic with whistles.

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

Not yet. All interesting.

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Made me want a drink--which is good!

Why is this book good? Because it caused me to memorize parts, share them with others, and reflect upon what I learned.

It's history in a bottle! Or, cask/cup/stein.

This book could have been almost twice as long and still a good read. The only part that got long to me was the greek/roman culture and wine portion--but the wine portion was my least favorite, anyways.

This book was so good, that it has caused me to read several other books written along similar lines.

The narrator was a bit slow and not quite as inflective as I like, but I got used to him quickly and was no problem.

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Very interesting read

Excellent book packed full of fascinating statistics and little nuggets of information. The one slight criticism is that I don't believe that Coca Cola really qualifies as a drink that has changed history. Rather, it owes its spread and success to the spread of US influence. Even so, the book is well worth the read.

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  • christine
  • Marlton, NJ, United States
  • 11-08-12

Another excellent history book on beverages

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes. I love trivia as well as history. This book delivers on the history of six different beverages. Tea, beer, coffee, coke etc. my favorite was where did beer originate. Coffee too. I think many will be surprised with some of the information in this book.<br/><br/>

Any additional comments?

Listened to it on my way to North Carolina