Technology historian Standage (The Turk, 2002, etc.) follows the flow of civilization as humanity guzzles a half-dozen prime beverages.
First made by nature in prehistory was beer. Finding it good, and more salubrious than plain water, mankind turned brewer. (And so the stage was set for cartoons set in barrooms eons later). From cuneiform beer ledgers, Standage’s story hops to Dionysus and the oenophiles of Greece and Rome, who knew as much about the pleasures of the grape as any modern wine snob. Here, we learn the vintage that Caligula preferred. In Córdoba, distilled spirits formed rum. Allotments of rum, in turn, enhanced the fighting effectiveness of British tars against foreign sailors debilitated by scurvy. The attempt to pay for the recent revolution by imposing federal taxes on independent stills produced the short-lived Whiskey Rebellion in the new United States. Islam eschewed booze, but a sober gift from the Arab world was coffee. In 17th-century Europe, coffeehouses were not only as ubiquitous as Starbucks, they were “information exchanges” where people traded news as “vibrant and unreliable” as that found on a contemporary Internet blog. Tea, which tradition holds was first brewed some 4,500 years ago (our author dates it closer to the first century), became largely controlled, along with opium, by the East India Company. From British tea-time dominance, beverage history goes to that fizzy badge of American hegemony, Coca-Cola. We learn why drugstores once featured soda fountains and how Coke fought Pepsi in WWII. Don’t drink the water: throughout history, beer, wine, whiskey, coffee, tea and soda pop were all more potable. Ironically, now that it’s bottled and pricey, water seems to making a comeback. Standage offers a distilled account of civilization founded on the drinking habits of mankind from the days of hunter-gatherers to yesterday’s designer thirst-quencher.
History, along with a bit of technology, etymology, chemistry and bibulous entertainment. Bottoms up! (24 b&w illustrations)