In a lively tour around the world and through the millennia, Uncorking the Past tells the compelling story of humanity's ingenious, intoxicating quest for the perfect drink. Following a tantalizing trail of archaeological, chemical, artistic, and textual clues, Patrick E. McGovern, the leading authority on ancient alcoholic beverages, brings us up to date on what we now know about how humans created and enjoyed fermented beverages across cultures. Along the way, he explores a provocative hypothesis about the integral role such libations have played in human evolution. We discover, for example, that the cereal staples of the modern world were probably domesticated for their potential in making quantities of alcoholic beverages. These include the delectable rice wines of China and Japan, the corn beers of the Americas, and the millet and sorghum drinks of Africa. Humans also learned how to make mead from honey and wine from exotic fruits of all kinds-even from the sweet pulp of the cacao (chocolate) fruit in the New World. The perfect drink, it turns out-whether it be mind-altering, medicinal, a religious symbol, a social lubricant, or artistic inspiration-has not only been a profound force in history, but may be fundamental to the human condition itself.
List of Illustrations
1. Homo Imbibens: I Drink, Therefore I Am
2. Along the Banks of the Yellow River
3. The Near Eastern Challenge
4. Following the Silk Road
5. European Bogs, Grogs, Burials, and Binges
6. Sailing the Wine-Dark Mediterranean
7. The Sweet, the Bitter, and the Aromatic in the New World
8. Africa Serves Up Its Meads, Wines, and Beers
9. Alcoholic Beverages: Whence and Whither?
Patrick E. McGovern is Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. His books include Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture, the 2004 Grand Prize winner in History, Literature, and Fine Arts, Organisation Internationale de la Vigne et du Vin. McGovern's research on the origins of alcoholic beverages has been featured in Time, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Nature, and elsewhere.
"Patrick McGovern has written his masterpiece. He takes us on an engrossing, multifaceted journey through the complex relationships between human cultures and alcoholic beverages of all kinds. In doing so, he develops a new context for human history."—Brian Fagan, author of The Great Warming and Fish on Friday
"Fascinating, wide-ranging and erudite. When it comes to ancient beverages, Patrick McGovern is the dean of the subject."—Tom Standage, author of A History of the World in 6 Glasses and An Edible History of Humanity
“In Uncorking the Past, Patrick E. McGovern charts the enchantment of human beings with alcoholic beverages from their initial discoveries of fermented honey, fruits, and grains to the perfection of elaborate means for producing, storing, transporting, and consuming treasured spirits. McGovern's gaze is truly global, spanning all the continents, but it is also microscopic, penetrating to neural pathways, genes, and molecules. This is a story told with verve and passion, yet one that is endlessly entertaining and highly informative.”—Victor H. Mair, co-author (with Erling Hoh) of The True History of Tea
“An eminently accessible, sweeping, and thought-provoking history of fermented alcohol.”—Max Nelson, author of The Barbarian's Beverage: A History of Beer in Ancient Europe
Honorable Mention for the Felicia A. Holton Book Award, Archaeological Institute of America