Book Review : “A History of the World in Six Glasses”

This is my first month doing book reviews alongside The Kitchen Reader online book club. May’s selection was “A History of the World in Six Glasses” by Tom Standage.


As you can gather from the title, this is a work of nonfiction and explores the narrative of humanity through the lens of 6 definitive drinks: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola. The premise is vaguely interesting and I was curious to learn some little known tidbits about these drinks, their discovery process and culture shaping tendencies. The book is divided into one section for each drink and follows a sort of liquid timeline exploring each libation in its heyday, from invention to acceptance to mass consumption.

Contrary to its damp subject matter, I found this book kind of dry. While each drink had some curious insights, for the most part I think the author placed too heavy an importance on the evolution of these liquids and their influence on the annals of history. Surely they were formative, but I had a hard time giving them the clout he did. He dedicates the rise and fall of civilizations, societies, the Enlightenment and British Imperialism to these powerful elixirs which eh, seemed like a stretch to me.

Though Coca-Cola is my least favorite of these drinks, I enjoyed that chapter the most. Probably  because it was the most modern setting and there were some fun facts about its infiltration around the world. The brand recognition and its association with the spreading of Western culture were vastly interesting points. All in all, this book isn’t gripping or life changing, but it could be worth a skim for history buffs just for a different perspective. I recommend reading in a comfy chair, surrounded by many leather-bound books while sipping an old fashioned and occasionally spinning an antique globe. Smoking jacket optional.




5 thoughts on “Book Review : “A History of the World in Six Glasses”

  1. Pingback: A History of the World in Six Glasses: May Round-Up | The Kitchen Reader

  2. Haha, yes, reading this book in a smoky library would be perfect. I think the idea that these six drinks are woven into big events in history is an intriguing one and that Standage backed it up reasonably convincingly. I was quite amazed that many of them were used as currencies. Thanks for your review!

  3. I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy this book since out of the 6 drinks, I only drink water. Well, I do drink pop but not coke. I was surprised how much I loved learning about the other drinks!

  4. I have to admit that I was totally drinking beer, wine, a cocktail, or coffee during the reading of each applicable chapter. I don’t think it’s the kind of book you need to read deeply into, but read for what is interesting to you, sorta like a newspaper article. I think I’ll have to try the globe spinning you recommend though! I don’t think his argument was necessarily that each beverage for each age were formative but that they played an important unique part of society at the time… I don’t even know if it was so much an argument as just saying information in an attempt to persuade. I’m looking forward to when we can read a fiction food book!

  5. LOL. I love the way you described this book – your review is really spot on. I found it a bit dry too, but there were some high points and I did find some of the facts Standage presented interesting (coffee houses brewing revolution, anyone?).

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