The Magazine

Thirst for Knowledge

How Coca-Cola saved civilization, or something.

Jul 24, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 42 • By JOE QUEENAN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

According to Standage, the ancient pyramids were built not by oppressed slaves, but tanked-up state employees, some of whom referred to themselves as the "Drunkards of Menkaure." This proves that the drone-like activities of hungover federal employees are hardly a modern innovation. He reports that Arab moonshiners flourished in medieval Spain despite the official Muslim ban on spirits: The Dukes of Halal, if you will. Demonstrating utter indifference to the etiquette of political correctness, Standage insists that American Indians had no interest in drinking unless there was enough booze to get everyone plastered, and that when supplies ran short, warriors were known to abstain from fire water entirely, leaving enough for their chums to get totally plowed. Presumably, the eve of the Little Big Horn was one of the rare gatherings where everyone remained firmly on the wagon.

Standage claims that the French Revolution officially erupted in a coffeehouse, which strongly suggests that if and when sedition comes to America, it could break out in a Starbucks, conceivably incited by brassy, left-leaning baristas. Finally, he reports that in 1911, in a federal case entitled The United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola, "religious fundamentalists railed against the evils of Coca-Cola, blaming its caffeine content for promoting sexual transgressions." It is bewildering and disappointing that, during the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings, neither Patrick Leahy nor Charles Schumer took the opportunity to ask John Roberts and Samuel Alito what they thought of that case.

It is equally worrisome that the federal government has never taken the brewing industry to court for perniciously attempting to pass off lite beer as an alcoholic beverage. One can only hope that, in the paperback edition, Standage will pinpoint the introduction of this vile concoction as the watershed moment when America's reputation as a two-fisted, beer-guzzling nation began to decline. More likely, though, his publishers will encourage him to write The Gifts of the Neanderthals, How the Jutes Saved Northern Italian Cuisine, or Cuneiforms: The Sumerian Information Highway.

Joe Quennan is the author, most recently, of Queenan Country: A Reluctant Anglophile's Pilgrimage to the Mother Country.