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The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World

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  • Posted October 13, 2009

    I am not a huge fan of Guinness, but this was a good book.

    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.

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  • Posted October 12, 2009

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    The Search for God and Guinness, by Stephen Mansfield

    "Beer, well respected and rightly consumed, can be a gift of God."

    Okay, I had to keep reading after that.

    Stephen Mansfield's "The Search for God and Guinness" is a story of the Guinness family's rise from the humble working-class to the owners of the largest business enterprise in Ireland (the Guinness Book of World Records is named after them). But it's also a paean to beer, and to money used well. I received this book from Thomas Nelson as part of the Book Review Bloggers program, and enjoyed reading it.

    The first chapter is a history of beer and why people throughout that history considered it good for them - for instance, it was a healthy substitute to unboiled water, it was an alternative to hard liquor and it contained B vitamins. The author's enthusiasm froths over in this section (sorry, bad pun) and beer all but gets God's stamp of approval. I think the reasoning is that since the Bible praises wine in Psalm 104:15, beer is likewise allowed, in moderation.

    This section also includes mentions of famous people who have appreciated and influenced beer, from Martin Luther to Enkidu (from the Epic of Gilgamesh), but I would have liked to see some attributions for Luther's more. permissive, shall we say. quotes.

    The rest of the book deals with the Guinness family, starting with Arthur Guinness. I've never even drunk beer, much less taken an interest in its history, but this section of the book was easy to read and involved interesting facts - for instance, the lease on Guinness's first major brewery was for nine thousand years. Talk about long-term planning. Then again, the yeast strain originally used in the 1700s is still busily at work today.

    Guinness coupled ambition with vision - he bought property near the docks, so ships could one day transport Guinness beer abroad. At the same time, though, he had a social conscience. His workers were treated very well by the standards of the day, and the Guinness board supported its company doctor's reforms in public health. Guinness also disapproved of the poor treatment of Catholics, which frequently had tensions brewing (OK, I'll stop here) in Ireland.

    Only one thing disappointed me about this book. The author mentioned that when Arthur Guinness started out, brewing was more superstition than science. People waited for airborne yeasts to ferment the alcohol, rather than selecting for and adding their own strains. Since my education is in microbiology, I was waiting eagerly for the moment when they would do this, but the book is far more about the men than the microbes involved in beer.

    And that's a small issue compared to the unfolding saga of a famous family, people who transformed wealth into the service of others, and changed water into beer.

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  • Posted October 8, 2009

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    Pint sized pilgrimage into the Guinness family

    "So like, what does Guinness do?" she asked. With that innocent question Mansfield ferments a tall pour of a tale about the Guinness family, brand, social responsibility, religion and oh, the beverage.
    Effervescence of refreshment, a mug of living history this book is. Did you know that the same yeast strain that fermented the first glass of Guinness has been carefully cultivated and preserved for the glass of modern Guinness? With that same care the Guinness family cultivated a relationship with God, their employees, their country and the world around them. The God behind the brand of Guinness is a refreshing tale of 5 generations of brewers that cared as much about people as they did about beer. Could anyone image from the glass of Guinness, as the last frothy foam is enjoyed from the tilted tankard is a view through a kaleidoscopic porthole into a world of social reformers, Sunday school champions and lover's of righteousness.
    What's up with mixing God up with beer? Isn't beer a sin? I mean everyone knows that proponents, purveyors and pursuants of pervasive pleasures (alcohol, liquor, beer and wine makers and sellers) are evil and are only out to make a buck off of the lowly addictions of winos and drunks. Pimps, drug dealers and bartenders are all cut from the same bolt, right? Wrong! The bible is clear in no uncertain terms: Don't get drunk on wine. Another passage states: wine is a mocker and beer is a brawler. So if getting drunk is a sin, therefore it stands to reason that anything that can make you drunk should and must be avoided. The Guinness family begged to differ. Getting drunk is clearly wrong but enjoying a glass or two of alcohol is not. Obesity is a sin too, but little is mentioned in our modern society about banning the consumption of food which is scientifically proven to cause weight gain. Food makes 60% of Americans obese so just ban food! Add the next amendment, burn the crops, kill the cows, chickens and pigs. Tear down the supermarkets! The Guinness family taught us moderation.
    Mansfield does a very nice job of filtering out the Guinness clan from the sediments of the historical records. I could not put the book down once I started it. You too will enjoy their story.

    Book blogger for Thomas Nelson

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  • Posted October 6, 2009

    Guinness is good for you

    This book was a pleasant surprise. It provided a history lesson on beer, described the formation and growth of the Guinness brewery and the Guinness family, and also provided a picture of what benevolent employment looks like.

    It is a great way to see history from a different perspective and to see how people can make a difference while also making a profit. I enjoyed seeing the varied interests of the Guinness descendants, the mighty works they performed and supported, and the way the culture of the company was part of what sold the beer.

    The book is a great gift for beer drinkers, and also has a solid story and message.

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  • Posted October 5, 2009

    God and Guinness Gets Lost in the Details

    I read an interesting Thomas Nelson book this week. Guinness beer isn't the usual Christian book publishing company topic. In fact, there are many conservative Christians that would have big problems with the main idea presented in this book: God works through not only "specifically religious careers" but through all people, even beer entrepreneurs, who live their lives with great faith and eternal vision. I'm not one of those people who have a moral issue with alcohol. I think calling any moderate drinking a sin is similar to the Pharisees adding their own more extreme limits to the Sabbath laws and then making those added things equal to the original laws in their minds. This conflict within the religious world is touched on briefly throughout the book. Author Stephen Mansfield does a thorough job of bringing readers up to speed on the history of beer; how it probably began and evolved through the ages (my favorite section of the entire book.) He also tells the detailed story of Arthur Guinness and his family. There are a lot of good ideas presented in this book. I liked reading about how many members of the Guinness family were extremely generous Christians who really set the bar for businesses regarding ethics, generosity, and social justice. However, it lagged a little for me, as far as keeping my interest. Maybe there were just a few too many details for my liking. Although, one of the more interesting details I learned by reading this book (and I don't know HOW I never connected this before) is that the Guinness Book of World Records is also connected with this family/company. This book would be best for huge history buffs, which I am not really.

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  • Posted October 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The Search for God and Guinness By Stephen Mansfield

    This book was really interesting. When you think of beer and church you don't think the two mix together that well do you? This book is pretty interesting, even if you don't like beer at all. The fist chapter was talking about the history of beer. The next chapter was explaining about what how they used their money to help the community and just help in general.

    This book was pretty good, but not one of the best I've read. Like I said even if you don't like beer, you'll still find this an interesting read. I thought some things could have been better, but you'll always find things like that in every book you read. Overall I think this book made you think, but I would not go out of my way to read it.

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    Posted September 10, 2011

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    Posted December 15, 2013

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    Posted December 14, 2009

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