A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage – Audiobook Review

A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage, narrated by Sean Runnette
Published in audio by Tantor Audio; published in print by Walker Books, an imprint of Bloomsbury


From the publisher:

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 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 drink the same way again.

Thoughts on the story:

Tom Standage has a fascinating story to tell of how our history has shaped what we drink, which ends up shaping our history again. Both the book and the argument were well-laid out, progressing logically through each of the six drinks and through human civilization, as one drink gave rise to another. Different technological and cultural advances precipitated the rise of each of the six drinks, and each of them further shaped culture in its own way. It should be noted, though, that this is less a history of the world than a history of Western Civilization, beginning with the early farmers in the fertile crescent and moving ever westward. Of course the east does get a mention, particularly when tea is involved, and coffee came to Europe from the Arab world, but in both cases the use of the beverage in Western Europe is the main focus. This is not necessarily a bad thing if one is prepared for this, but at the same time it would have been nice to have a more worldwide lens based on the title.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Sean Runnette is a great narrator of nonfiction. His delivery is clear and his voice easy to listen to, with just the right amount of interest added in his inflection. There was occasionally an issue with the quality of the recording, some of the edits were noticeable, but overall they didn’t negatively affect the listening experience.


A really fascinating way of looking at our shared history. Recommended.

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