I’ve been listening to Tom Standage’s A History of he World in 6 Glasses on my way to and from work. Standage, who looks a bit like Morissey in his press pics and has written for The Guardian and The Economist, charts the development of human civilization and community life through the histories of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola. I like all of those things (except Coke. I find all soft drinks vaguely icky.) and thought I might take a break from my full-on fiction immersion and listen to a bit of history instead.
Educated and Oxford and groomed at major British news outlets, it doesn’t surprise that the history of human civilization as presented by Standage reads a bit like the history of civilization until England and America come on the scene. Then it reads like a history of British Empire and American Globalization. I, for one, would have been interested to learn about tea and coffee culture in Germany and the Netherlands–not only because that displays MY biases, but because epic tons of coffee (and maybe tea?) come into North Sea and Baltic ports every day. Coffee is Germany’s drink, but tea is huge in the areas closest to the Netherlands. Ostfriesland has its own tea blend, for example, and tea and coastal communities seem to go hand in hand.
Others have pointed out the repetition in the first half of the book, which were also noticable in the audio version. No need to beat a dead horse there buddy. But what I didn’t see, reading through reviews of the book, were any comments mirroring my own reaction: good grief did I get thirsty!! Driving home and listening to the history of beer brewing from Mesopotamia to Britian made me want a tall one more than I could even say. His descriptions of ancient Greek and Roman wine-making were slightly less tantalizing, if only because he kept talking about all the . . . interesting things that got blended into wine for palatability. We visited one of the wineries he mentions in the epilogue as making historical Roman wines. They were surprisingly good.
I think it was the tea chapters that got me. He lingered over the tea ceremonies in Asia and the tea parties in England and tea tea tea long enough that I had to re-stock my office drawer with the good stuff. And then I added a bit of milk, just like the Brits.
And though colas leave me completely cold, the chapter on the evolution of soft drinks began with an exhaustive explanation of how soda water came to be. We have a Soda Stream at home, with which we make “fizzy water” and my mouth and throat felt so parched in the car, listening to the discussion of fizzy drinks, that I had a liter of it when I got home.
The power of suggestion is alive and well.