It’s time to spill the beans about my next book, “A History of the World in Six Glasses”. Shockingly, it does not follow the format of my previous three books, which look at historical technologies in the light of modern ones. No, this time I connect the present and the past in a different way, and I do it six times, through different drinks. Yes, drinks.
Just as archaeologists divide history up into the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and so on, I have divided up the history of humankind by drink. I start with beer in the Neolithic period, and then proceed through wine in Greece and Rome, spirits in the Age of Exploration, coffee in the Age of Reason, tea and the British Empire, and ending up with Coca-Cola, the rise of America, and globalisation. All of these beverages emerged as the dominant drinks in particular historical periods, illuminate the links between different cultures, influenced the course of history in unexpected ways, and are still drunk today. It’s history through the bottom of a glass: my aim is to make you see your favourite drink in a new, historically informed light.
Of course, each drink is a kind of technology, so this is not as different from my previous books as it might appear: as usual, I’m really writing about the social impact of technology, as changing circumstances repeatedly cause different drinks to come to the fore. Most drinks were water purification technologies, and many doubled as currencies, status symbols or medicines. As you can imagine, I had a lot of fun doing the research. The book will be out next year in various parts of the world: so far only Random House in Canada has put up a page. My own page will follow shortly.
One final note: this book does not have a subtitle. My US publisher, George Gibson at Walker & Co. in New York, invented the brief-history genre with “Longitude”, which led to a flurry of similar books (including my own). One distinguishing feature of such books is that they usually have long subtitles, along the lines of “the amazing story of XXX and how it changed our world”. But lately the subtitles have been getting out of hand; George says it’s verging on self-parody. Some books even have two subtitles. So George is now backing away from subtitles; and where he leads, others often follow. I suppose I really ought to write this whole subtitle thing up as an Economist story. Oh, wait, someone has done it already.