Wednesday, October 7, 2009
There are few beers on earth as iconic as Guinness, few brands as well defined and even a source of national pride, few families as remarkable. In three phrases you basically have the premise of Stephen Mansfield's new book, The Search for God and Guinness.
Guinness was the first legal beer I ever drank, in the lounge bar of a hotel near my home back in the north of Scotland, and is still a beer I turn to when I am not sure what to drink - being a beer geek has the disadvantage sometimes of leaving one uncertain as to what to drink in a pub. As a result of my early drinking years enjoying Guinness in Oirish pubs in Birmingham, I have become a devotee of stout in general.
Being a beer geek means I had to remember that I am not Mansfield's target audience, so I had to put myself in the shoes of some of my more religious friends convinced of the evils of alcohol. Mansfield does a good job of showing how beer has been part and parcel of human culture for millennia, and even part of church life from the very beginning of the faith, through to the Reformation, the Puritans and how many of the great men of faith that we revere such as Luther, Calvin, St Patrick and Jonathan Edwards held a positive view of beer, thus showing that Christian prohibitionism stands outside the historic and biblical approach to alcohol.
Much of the Guinness story though I didn't know. Mansfield's treatment of the leading characters in the development of the beer and the business are sympathetic and give the reader a good insight not in to just what each of them did, but also their motives for doing so. One thing that in particular gripped me was the story of how the company backed Dr Lumsden in his efforts to improve the every day lives of the Guinness workers and their families, by improving access to health care, raising the standards of housing, providing education and even starting the first branch of the St John's Ambulance in Ireland.
A couple of minor gripes aside, a slightly patronising tone when dealing with ancient source material which isn't the Bible, and claiming radar to have been invented prior to World War I (yes, I know of the work of Hulsmeyer and Tesla in the early part of the 20th century, but radar as a method of working out the distance away of objects as well as their presence didn't come until later). But these really are very minor gripes.
Regardless of your religious point of view, Mansfield's book is an interesting read and one which proves the old adage that with great wealth comes great responsibility, or as St James would put it "faith without works is dead".