The Greeks worshipped it; the Aztecs were a little more conflicted.
Sam Anderson in New York magazine:
The popular history of a humdrum object—that faddish genre in which the most boring items on your dining-room table (salt, cod, potatoes, bananas, chocolate) are revealed to be secret juggernauts of profound social change—has recently become so popular that it’s probably time for someone to write a popular history of it. If I were forced, I’d diagnose the trend as yet another symptom (like $4 gas or home foreclosures) of our current flavor of late-phase capitalism—a commercialism so far advanced we’ve begun transferring historical glories from our leaders (Napoleon, Churchill, Gandhi) to our products, so that we find ourselves surrounded by greatness in every aisle of Whole Foods. I’d also add, if forced, that the genre’s wild success seems to predict its own obsolescence: The conclusion that everything is integral to the history of everything is perilously close, in the end, to no conclusion at all.
True to form, Iain Gately’s new book, Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol, posits its subject as the lifeblood of the world. Booze has presided over executions and business deals and marriages and births. It inspired the ancient Greeks to invent not only democracy but comedy and tragedy. It helped goad America’s Founding Fathers into revolution.