Last year I reviewed Bill Bryson’s delightfully dorky and cheeky At Home, calling it a treasure-trove of trivia. I love books that make you think Oh, that’s why it’s like that! This book is one of those books, and so I really enjoyed it. Whereas Bryson’s book focused on things like wallpaper glue and how dangerous stairs are, this book is all about how culture was shaped by humanity’s beverages of choice: beer, wine, liquor, coffee, tea, Coca-Cola, and water. (I don’t actually know which ones are the six in the title, but all are covered.)
The books starts out with beer, as does any conversation worth having. (By the way, consider pairing this section with the previously reviewed The Comic Book Story of Beer.) Beer is parter of a larger discussion about agriculture and why humans started staying put. Next up is wine, which is interesting mainly because wine people have always fancied themselves to be more cultured than beer people. I’m firmly in the beer camp, although I’m no stranger to the grape.
Likewise, coffee and tea are something of a similar pairing. Coffeehouses have always played a role in free thought, and even in mobile officing. As someone working remotely, I enjoyed thinking of myself as being part of a chain of coffeehouse workers going back several hundred years. Tea, like wine, was often a demonstrator of status and refinement. Standage goes into some depth of tea as representative of the British Empire’s reach, including its negative effects.
Likewise, he looks at Coca-Cola as a symbol of western capitalism and imperialism. That idea, of course, is not new. What was especially interesting to me was how Pepsi was low-key a symbol of communism for decades.
While this book was enjoyable, I didn’t think Standage was adept as Bryson at weaving in cultural and historical context. Nonetheless, this is a fun audiobook for walks and road trips.