2012 Book of the Year: A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage. Another of the wonderful recommendations from the folks at “Unshelved,” this is a fascinating interdisciplinary look at six eras of world history and how the dominant beverage of the time influenced societal, political and economic change. Standage is a business editor at The Economist magazine and the style of the magazine is mirrored in this volume: rigorous in its depth and description, but not academically dry. One theme that emerges from almost every era is that the featured beverage began as a drink limited in its distribution to the elite: the priests, the rulers and the wealthy, but eventually new sources of supply and manufacturing techniques led it to become available to the masses. The book is filled with interesting information such as how the customs of the Greek symposia are still carried on around dining tables today, how the change from beer to rum on Royal Naval ships led to British dominance of the high seas, and how local Prohibition and federal tax regulations impacted the development of Coca-Cola.
His follow-up title, The Edible History of Humanity, in which he examines the impact of food on world civilization through the centuries, is also readable, but not quite as good.
For all my previous “books of the year” lists, see my dedicated page for these titles.