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Monthly Archives: May 2005

So, I’m about to go on the road promoting “A History of the World in Six Glasses” in the US and Canada for a couple of weeks. This will mainly involve lots of radio interviews, but also a few bookstore appearances. At some of these events I’ll have samples of ancient beer, Roman wine and grog available for tasting — local licensing laws permitting, that is. And assuming I can get the samples across the Atlantic and through customs without incident. Here are the dates, if you want to come and try them. My favourite is the Roman wine made with sea water.

May 30 – Toronto (University of Toronto Bookstore, 7.30pm
May 31 – Washington, DC (Olsson’s Bookstore, 7pm
June 2 – Boston (Newton Free Library, Newton, MA, 7.30pm) 
June 4 – New York (BookExpo America, Jacob Javits Convention Center, 4pm) 
June 6 – Seattle (Village Books, Bellingham, WA, 7.30pm) 
June 7 – Seattle (University Bookstore, 7pm
June 8 – La Jolla (Warwick’s Bookstore, 7.30pm
June 10 – Calgary (McNally Robinson Bookstore, 8pm)

I recently interviewed Chris Anderson, the editor-in-chief of Wired and a former colleague of mine at The Economist, about his theory of The Long Tail, and its impact on the economics of e-commerce. (Gosh, it feels so 1999 to write something like that. Anyway, here is his original essay, and my summary of it in The Economist.) After the success of his original article on the subject, Chris is now turning it into a book, and he is blogging his thoughts as he goes along.

All of which got me to thinking about whether that’s a good way to put a book together or not. I suspect that it’s probably quite a good approach if you are advancing an argument, as Chris is, about the internet itself. There are lots of helpful and knowledgeable people who are reading his blog and stress-testing his ideas (though he is also doing a lot of behind-the-scenes research and econometrics). “I believe I will have a better book, but I fear it may be later,” said Chris when I asked him how it was going. “The notion of beta-testing your ideas, giving to get something more, is the right way to make a good book.”

I have a feeling, though, that this approach might not be so effective for the kinds of books that I write, since I tend to dig up obscure bits of history. I also worry that even considering a book-blog is merely a form of displacement activity. Whenever I start on a new book, I always consider using some new piece of software or something to organise my notes, do the bibliography, and so on. I always decide against it. It’s the same with outliners — I never use them, because I worry that I will end up fiddling with the tools rather than using them to do any work. (Instead, I always end up with a pile of plain text files, which are future-proof and easy to search.) I think that for me, a book-blog would pose a similar temptation. I hope it works out for Chris, but even he admits that it’s too soon to say if it will. “I can’t tell yet what my conversion rate will be for words-on-blog to words-in-book,” he told me. “But if it’s not better than 20%, I’m in trouble.” His book is due next year.

I was interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered yesterday, mainly about beer in the ancient world, since they were doing a segment on beer. Alas, I was unable to participate in the subsequent on-air tasting, since I did the interview from London. But I was glad to see that the tasting included Anchor Steam, one of my favourite American beers. (For the record, others include Anchor Liberty Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Pyramid Hefeweizen, and anything by Ommegang.) Anchor beer was appropriate for another reason: Fritz Maytag, head honcho at Anchor, is very interested in ancient beer and has recreated ancient Sumerian brews from the original recipes a couple of times. I visited him while researching the book, but he doesn’t have any Sumerian beer available for tasting any more, so I couldn’t taste it.

The first edition of my new book, “A History of the World in Six Glasses”, came out this month. Appropriately enough, given that I had the original idea for the book while on holiday in Italy, it’s the Italian edition, “Una storia del mondo in sei bicchieri”. I love the way it sounds in Italian. I can even understand bits of it, which is more than can be said for the German or Korean editions of my previous books. My Italian publisher, Codice Edizione, launched the book at the Turin Book Fair, and it got a good write-up in La Stampa. Codice even threw a rooftop party with six tables, each with its own drink, plus appropriate food (hamburgers with the Coca-Cola, for example). Obsessive that I am, I duly drank all six drinks — in the correct historical order, of course. And with the US and Canadian editions coming out at the beginning of June, I have finally put up a dedicated page for the new book, which has just received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

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