Alcohol

Driven to Drink

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How Beer Saved the World makes an entertaining case that fermented malt beverages are "the greatest invention of all time." The 2011 Discovery Channel documentary presents evidence that beer triggered the agricultural revolution (since hunter-gatherers needed barley to make it), "built the pyramids" (since Egypt's workers were fueled by it), and inspired "a host of inventions," including the plow, irrigation, wheeled carts, measurement math, and writing.

We also learn that drinking beer saved "millions of lives" during the Middle Ages because brewing killed dangerous waterborne bacteria. In early America beer fostered a tavern culture that gave birth to the Revolution. Louis Pasteur's curiosity about why beer spoils led to the germ theory, "the cornerstone of modern medicine." Brewers' need for bottles gave us the first automated assembly lines, a decade before the Model T.

"Without beer," says historian Gregg Smith, "we'd probably still be living in caves." And what fun would that be without beer? —Jacob Sullum