I’m grateful to my sister for sending my A History of the World in Six Glasses as my birthday present this year. I highly recommend it to you, no matter what you may teach. Tom Standage examines various epochs by considering the role of a particular drink. For the ancient world (think Sumer and Egypt), he provides a discussion of beer. (In particular, I was intrigued to gain some insight as to why we offer toasts at ceremonies.) The Greeks, of course, grew in power in part due to the wine they were able to produce and trade. World history teachers would learn some interesting tidbits and find some useful materials for students to read.
I teach British literature from a sequential, historical perspective, and so one unit is on the Enlightenment. Standage’s discussion of coffee houses as the ‘internet’ of the seventeenth century, helping to spark the scientific advancements that took place, was quite interesting. There was also some very interesting material about how western Europe managed to procure and grow its own coffee when the Arab world proved to be very proprietary over its resources. He also noted the resistance to coffee posed by various religious leaders. No discussion of Britain would be complete without reference to tea, and Standage provides a helpful unit explaining the rise of the East India Company. I couldn’t help but think of “Too Big to Fail,” izzit’s video on that company, as I read. Those chapters provided some very helpful additional information about the collusion between the British government and that behemoth company, including some very unsavory dealings.
Another unit deals with distilled liquor (‘spirits’), in particular rum. While there is discussion of the triangular trade and reference to the American colonial period, there is also some entertaining material on the British navy. Did you know that “grog,” that sailor’s mixture of rum, water, and limes, may have played a role in British mastery of the seas? Read the book to find out why!
You might not be surprised to learn that Standage chooses Coca-Cola for his sixth influential drink, noting how it came to be inseparably associated with American values in the “American Century.” These chapters provide quite useful fodder for discussions about the values of capitalism vs. communism (or the potential pitfalls, to some people, of a truly free market. Throughout, Standage tells interesting and entertaining anecdotes, mixing in some broad ideas of how cultures change and adapt.
So whether you teach economics, history, or literature, you may find this to be a valuable book. If you teach none of these things but use the izzit videos in your classroom, you may find portions of it helpful in providing additional background information.