Book Review – The Search for God and Guinness

I am not a huge fan of Guinness. As I get older, I have warmed to it but it is not my favorite beer. (In case you’re wondering, that distinction goes to Sam Adams’ White Ale.) Perhaps it is because I’m not Irish. But I have always held Guinness in the highest regard because of its storied past. I knew it was old, but I had no idea how old until I had the opportunity to read and review The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World by Stephen Mansfield.

Interestingly enough, this book is not really a biography of the beer but rather the brewers. It tells the story of the Guinness family, from Arthur Guinness who founded the brewery in 1759 to Arthur Francis Benjamin who resigned from the chairmanship in 1986. It follows the family and their namesake brewery over 250 years of challenges and successes.

The fascinating part of the story is the spiritual and social journey of the Guinness family who, despite being created peers and being unbelievably wealthy, remained focus on the needs of their workers. Mansfield makes the point that “righteous wealth” can do more for the betterment of society than government mandates can.

One of the best history books I’ve read in recent months, God and Guinness really looked at the journey of hope that is the Guinness’ family history. It shows how Guinness itself became a symbol of Irish pride and Guinness the company became symbols of generous charity, patient hope, and just plain good business. Their vision was never limited to a profit and because of that, the world was better for having them.

Mansfield’s style is upfront and direct. He presents the facts while offering some marginal thoughts along the way. Overall, it was an excellent presentation of business, moderation and vision.

For your reading pleasure, I offer sixteen unbelievable but true things I learned about Guinness:

  1. The Guinness Book of World Records came about because of an argument between Sir Hugh Guinness and a friend during a hunting trip in 1951.
  2. Sir Alec Guinness is probably NOT related to the Guinness family. He was born illegitimate but his father was probably Andrew Geddes. The Guinness part of his name is probably a typo.
  3. Guinness is ‘officially’ a dark ruby, and not black as most people assume.
  4. The trademark thick foam head is the result of the presence of nitrogen. This is why one should drink Guinness from a glass and not the can or bottle.
  5. Arthur Guinness, the founder of the brewery, leased the original premises at St. James Gate in Dublin for a term of 9,000 years! The brewery may need to locate in the year 10,759…
  6. Before British forces hit Europe in 1939 (to be later be beaten back by the Germans) every soldier received a pint of Guinness. The Red Cross actually sent volunteers to the brewery to help get the vast number of pints out on time!
  7. Henry Grattan Guinness, a descendant of Arthur Guinness, was a contemporary evangelist who was on par with D. L. Moody and Charles Spurgeon. His son married J. Hudson Taylor’s daughter.
  8. Guinness did ABSOLUTELY no advertising for the first 167 years of the companies existence. It nonetheless monopolized the Irish market and became a world-wide brand.
  9. Guinness (and all other beers) reduced their alcohol content during the 1890’s to comply with a British Law.
  10. Guinness’ advertising in the mid-1900’s was so effective that their posters were made "real life" for the first commercial television broadcast in Great Britain.
  11. In the late 1800’s, Guinness went everywhere the British or Irish did. A traveler in the 1890’s actually found Guinness for sale in the Himalayas (at the outrageous price of 8 shillings a pint!)
  12. A privately held company until 1886, when Guinness made a public offering of stock, people snapped up the stock certificates in minutes. This was before modern stock exchanges and their automation.
  13. Today, nearly ten million glasses of Guinness are consumed daily, nearly 2 billion pints a year!
  14. Rupert Guinness, who received 5 million pounds as a wedding gift from his father Edward Guinness, moved into a slum with his wife and used the money to improve the community.
  15. Arthur Guinness, the company’s founder, also founded Ireland’s first Sunday School.
  16. In 2003, a researcher for the University of Wisconsin concluded that a pint of Guinness a day actually bolsters heart health and is infinitely better for you than the caffeine in coffee or the high fructose corn syrup in soda.

And now you know…

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