A History of the World in Six Glasses

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A History of the World in Six Glasses Themes

Themes and Colors
Innovation and Competition Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
Freedom and Self-Control Theme Icon
Equality and Elitism Theme Icon
Drinking Spaces and Community Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A History of the World in Six Glasses, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Standage begins A History of the World in 6 Glasses by pointing out an obvious but important fact: in the beginning, humans drank water and nothing else. With the rise of civilization, however, came a steady progression of new beverages: beer, then wine, then coffee, tea, etc. It’s worth thinking about what drives this process of experimentation, discovery, innovation, and popularization, since it’s the process on which Standage’s entire book hinges.

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Standage makes it clear from the beginning of his book that a history of beverages is a history of civilization. Even more to the point, a history of beverages is a history of imperialism: the process by which one civilization uses its power to control another civilization. People don’t simply drink things that taste good—they drink things that are exotic and mysterious to their societies. It’s no coincidence that coffee and tea (first consumed in…

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It’s interesting to note that all six of the drinks Standage discusses in his book bring about some kind of mental or physical change in the drinker: drunkenness, alertness, calmness, etc. At various points in history, these six drinks have been feared for their ability to do exactly this. People have criticized alcohol for causing violence and unruliness for as long as people have been drinking it, and there were even those who believed that…

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The six beverages that Standage describes imply two opposite things: equality and elitism. One could say that the earliest beverages were elitist. This is reflected in the origins of wine and beer—in the beginning, they were intended for the leaders of society (either priests or kings), certainly not for common people. And yet beverages could also be considered inherently egalitarian. Beverages, unlike most foods, can be shared evenly—we see this reflected in an expression…

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A highly important part of Standage’s book is his discussion of the places where drinks have been consumed over the centuries. With every new beverage, humans had to invent a new space in which to enjoy it: the wine symposium, the coffeehouse, the tea parlor, the whiskey bar. Standage might as well have named his book A History of the World in Six Drinking Spaces. The question, then, is why are spaces so…

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