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A History of the World in 6 Glasses

How your favorite drinks changed the world

By Tom Standage
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  • Contains 9 key ideas
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A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage

A History of the World in 6 Glasses (2006) is a look at human history through an unusual lens: our favorite drinks. These blinks outline the global rise of beer, wine, alcoholic spirits, tea, coffee and soda, and how they each played into major historical developments as they spread around the world.

Key idea 1 of 9

The discovery of beer contributed to the rise of settled civilizations.

Most people enjoy a glass of beer now and then, but have you ever wondered who invented it? Well, beer was actually never invented – it was discovered.

The origins of beer date back to the end of the Ice Age, around 10,000 BC, when people in the area known as the Fertile Crescent – present-day Middle East and Egypt – were producing wild cereal grains in abundance.

People soon found that when grains were soaked in water, their starch converted to malt. When gruel was made with this malted grain and left to ferment for a few days, it turned into an intoxicating and slightly fizzy drink. People enjoyed its taste and the way it made them feel, so they started to produce more and more of it.

The desire to produce beer was one of the reasons humans began to settle and, eventually, farm.

At the time, life was based on hunting and gathering, so humans could only utilize certain areas of land for short periods, and weren’t able to store food. But as their desire for grain-based products like beer and bread increased, they began to look for a constant supply of grain.

This lead them to discover that stored cereal grains could gradually be consumed over a period of several months, or even years. As they came to understand the benefits of storage, they also realized that it was better to stay near grain reserves.

The need for grain eventually led people to develop agriculture, too. They began to deliberately plant and cultivate it as their society grew more reliant on grain-based food products – like beer.

Beer, in turn, became a bigger part of daily life as these early settlements developed into larger civilizations. Beer was a symbol of civilized life and sharing it became a sign of hospitality. It was even used in some religious and state ceremonies.

In fact, beer is described as the drink of the “civilized man” in the Epic of Gilgamesh, written in Mesopotamia and widely regarded as human history’s first great work of literature.

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