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February 18, 2006

A History Of The World In Six Glasses

Filed under: Books — Bob @ 12:03 pm

I slept in this morning and then stayed in bed long enough to finish reading Tom Standage’s A History Of The World In Six Glasses.

Standage presents the history of civilization in the context of the inventions of various beverages: beer, wine, distilled spirits, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola. The writing is sharp and witty. The book was an educational read too: I didn’t fully grasp the origins of wine and it’s importance in Greek culture. In retrospect it makes sense but still it was new.

I also found it interesting that none of these beverages originated in Europe. Beer, wine, spirits and coffee were Arabic inventions with rich and long cultural histories prior to European import. Tea first appeared in South Asia and was later brought to China and Japan although those cultures quickly created alternate history to explain its local origins.

Later Europe was introduced to tea, the British Empire adopted it as it’s national drink, and the rest is tea history. And of course Coca-Cola was an American invention, with its own interesting and often bizarre origins. Seems it was invented as yet another quack medical cure and only later became a refreshing beverage for mass consumption.

The book finishes up with a small discussion about water. Interesting to learn that most bottled water has less monitoring and quality control than the tap water available in most developed nations. Also interesting to know that the United Nation’s estimated cost of bringing reliable production of clean drinking water to poor nations is less than what consumers spend on bottled water every year.

Recently Dean Karmen announced a new invention to cheaply produce clean drinking water with only modest power requirements. Standage mentions World Health Organization estimates 80 percent of illness in the world can be directly attributed to waterborne disease (also mentioned in Karmen’s announcement).

Recommended if you are looking for a light yet fascinating read.

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