A History of the World in 6 Glasses
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"A History of the World in 6 Glasses" Summary

By Tom Standage

history | 336 pages | Published in NaN

Throughout human history, certain drinks have done much more than just quench thirst. As Tom Standage relates with authority and charm, six of them have had a surprisingly pervasive influence on the course of history, becoming the defining drink during a pivotal historical period. 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.


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A fascinating exploration of the world's history through the lens of six influential beverages.


"A History of the World in 6 Glasses" by Tom Standage is a captivating exploration of the role that beverages have played in shaping human history. Through the lens of six iconic drinks, Standage takes readers on a journey spanning thousands of years, revealing how these beverages have influenced civilizations, triggered societal changes, and even sparked revolutions. From beer to wine, spirits to coffee, tea to cola, this book delves into the fascinating stories behind these drinks and their impact on human civilization.

Brief Synopsis

The book is divided into six parts, each dedicated to a specific beverage and its historical significance. Standage begins by tracing the origins of beer in ancient Mesopotamia, highlighting its role in the birth of agriculture and the development of early civilizations. He then moves on to wine, exploring its ties to the Greeks and Romans, and its influence on art, philosophy, and trade.

Next, Standage delves into the world of spirits, focusing on the connection between distilled alcohol and the colonization of the New World. He explores how spirits like rum and whiskey played a pivotal role in the slave trade, the American Revolution, and the rise of global trade routes.

The book then shifts to the caffeinated world of coffee, tracing its origins in Arabia and its spread across Europe. Standage reveals how coffeehouses became hubs of intellectual activity, fostering the enlightenment and stimulating the exchange of ideas.

Moving on to tea, Standage explores its impact on the British Empire and its role in the Opium Wars. He reveals how tea became a symbol of British identity and power, ultimately shaping global trade and sparking conflicts.

Finally, Standage concludes with the story of cola, examining its rise as a mass-produced beverage in the United States and its role in shaping modern consumer culture and globalization.

Main Events

BeverageMain Events
BeerInvention in ancient Mesopotamia, agricultural revolution, rise of civilization
WineGreek and Roman influence, trade networks, impact on art and philosophy
SpiritsConnection to colonization, slave trade, American Revolution
CoffeeSpread from Arabia to Europe, rise of coffeehouses, impact on enlightenment
TeaBritish Empire, Opium Wars, global trade
ColaRise as a mass-produced beverage, consumer culture, globalization

Main Characters

BeverageMain Characters
BeerAncient Mesopotamians, Sumerians, Egyptians, early civilizations
WineGreeks, Romans, traders, philosophers, artists
SpiritsEuropean colonizers, Native Americans, slaves, American revolutionaries
CoffeeArabs, European merchants, intellectuals, scientists
TeaBritish Empire, British East India Company, Chinese traders, Opium War participants
ColaJohn Pemberton, Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, advertising pioneers, consumers

Themes and Insights

  1. Societal Transformation: Through the exploration of these beverages, Standage reveals how their consumption and cultural significance have shaped and transformed societies throughout history.
  2. Globalization: The book highlights the role of trade routes, colonization, and the rise of mass production in creating a globalized world, with these beverages acting as catalysts for cultural exchange and economic development.
  3. Power and Influence: The beverages discussed in the book often symbolize power, whether it be the political influence of beer in ancient civilizations, the economic dominance of tea in the British Empire, or the cultural impact of cola in modern consumer culture.
  4. Cultural Identity: Standage explores how these beverages have become intertwined with cultural identity, reflecting the values, traditions, and social dynamics of different societies.
  5. Technology and Innovation: The book also touches on the technological advancements and innovations that enabled the production, distribution, and consumption of these beverages, such as brewing techniques, distillation, and mass production.

Reader's Takeaway

"A History of the World in 6 Glasses" offers a unique and engaging perspective on world history, presenting a narrative that intertwines the stories of these beverages with the broader sweep of human civilization. It provides readers with a fresh lens through which to view the past, highlighting the often overlooked influence of everyday drinks on the course of history. Standage's writing is informative, accessible, and thought-provoking, making this book a must-read for history enthusiasts and anyone curious about the hidden forces that have shaped our world.


"A History of the World in 6 Glasses" takes readers on an enlightening journey through the ages, showcasing the pivotal role that beverages have played in shaping human history. From the ancient origins of beer and wine to the modern-day dominance of cola, Tom Standage weaves together compelling stories that captivate and educate. This book is a testament to the power of everyday objects and their ability to shape the course of civilizations, making it an essential read for anyone interested in the rich tapestry of human history.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses FAQ

  1. What is 'A History of the World in 6 Glasses' about?

    'A History of the World in 6 Glasses' is a book by Tom Standage that explores the impact of six beverages - beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola - on human history, from ancient times to the present.

  2. Who is the author of 'A History of the World in 6 Glasses'?

    The author of 'A History of the World in 6 Glasses' is Tom Standage, a British journalist and author known for his works on historical and technological subjects.

  3. What are the six glasses mentioned in the book?

    The six glasses mentioned in the book are beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. Each beverage represents a different era in history and has played a significant role in shaping human civilization.

  4. Is 'A History of the World in 6 Glasses' a non-fiction book?

    Yes, 'A History of the World in 6 Glasses' is a non-fiction book. It combines historical research and analysis to provide insights into the cultural, social, and economic impact of beverages throughout history.

  5. What makes 'A History of the World in 6 Glasses' unique?

    What sets 'A History of the World in 6 Glasses' apart is its exploration of the influence of beverages on human history. By examining the significance of these six drinks, the book offers a fresh perspective on the development of civilizations and their interconnectedness.

  6. Is 'A History of the World in 6 Glasses' suitable for academic study?

    Yes, 'A History of the World in 6 Glasses' is often used as a supplemental resource in academic settings. It provides valuable insights into cultural history, the development of societies, and the interplay between humans and their environment.

  7. Can I read 'A History of the World in 6 Glasses' if I'm not a history enthusiast?

    Absolutely! 'A History of the World in 6 Glasses' is written in an engaging and accessible manner, making it enjoyable for readers who may not have a strong background in history. It presents the information in a narrative style that keeps readers interested.

  8. Are there any illustrations or images in 'A History of the World in 6 Glasses'?

    No, 'A History of the World in 6 Glasses' is primarily a text-based book. It focuses on the historical narrative and analysis, without including illustrations or images. The book relies on the power of storytelling to captivate readers.

  9. Where can I purchase 'A History of the World in 6 Glasses'?

    You can purchase 'A History of the World in 6 Glasses' from various online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or directly from the publisher. It is also available in many bookstores.

  10. Are there any other books by Tom Standage that I might enjoy?

    Yes, Tom Standage has written several other books exploring historical and technological subjects. Some of his notable works include 'The Victorian Internet,' 'An Edible History of Humanity,' and 'Writing on the Wall: Social Media - The First 2,000 Years.'