2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2010
Fairly recently I heard a story about the founder of the Guinness brewing company being an evangelical Christian. I was not sure what to make of it, so when I encountered Stephen Mansfield's Searching For God and Guinness, I had to read this book. One of the things that I appreciated about the book was that the author did not rely on the myth, even if it was a heart-warming myth. The author has done his research and presents to us an interesting and inspiring story of a family that tried to make a difference. The story begins with Arthur Guinness, who eventually gets his own brewery. The story is not about the beer he brewed but about the ways he treated his employees. His evangelical faith shaped everything he did and it definitely showed in the culture of his company. He took care of his employees in a way that would shock many people today. The book continues with Arthur's successors, as they faced changing times while trying to be faithful to the original vision of the company. There basically were two lines of Arthur's descendants, those who went into the brewing industry and those who went into Christian ministry. Still, the author is quick to point out that some of those who went the brewing route, were just as active in Christian ministry as they used their influence and wealth to help those in need and to promote the cause of Christ. In some ways, the title of this book is misleading. Yes, God and faith pop up throughout the book, but really the book is about the Guinness family, their brewing adventures and their attempts to promote a generous lifestyle. After reading the book, it almost seems as if the title of Searching For God and Guinness was intended to draw Christian readers into getting a book about beer that they might not normally read. It worked for me so it was perhaps not a bad idea. Still, this was a very good book. It presents a family that struggled with what Christian faith looked like in the business world and what it means to be responsible with the gifts and wealth that come our way. Whether or not you are a beer drinker, this book is well worth reading.
This is the biography of a beer. I've never read the life story of a beer before. I have, however, read several biographies of great people and have always come away with an even greater appreciation of and respect for them, having learned more about them and how they impacted the times in which they lived. Like any good biography, the story of Guinness has bolstered and deepened my admiration for the tall, dark and handsome stout. I appreciate and respect it more now knowing its humble beginnings and the times, often harsh, in which both the beer and the family who brewed it lived and worked.
Mansfield tells the story in a straightforward and sympathetic manner. There is little flourish and, truthfully, not a lot of literary artistry here. But this seems fitting somehow in light of the plain, direct and sympathetic people the Guinnesses were. Mansfield's telling has enough detail to satisfy a popular audience about the family that founded this global institution as well as about the dark nectar itself, all without getting bogged down in brewing minutiae or the generations old gossip and conjecture which often finds its way into books on the Guinness family, much to their (and sometimes their lawyer's) annoyance. The reader is familiarized with the three "streams" of the Guinness family, those who brewed, those who banked, and those who preached, all of whom, in their day, were known as much for their humanitarian and charity work as they were for their vocations.
I appreciated the description of the author's own "beer pilgrimage," coming from a background that had largely viewed beer as a negative force in society to the realization that beer has played a very important and in some cases very central role in shaping many societies for the better, whether improving general health and nutrition, combating addiction to hard liquor or just being a central feature in social and celebratory gatherings, like good food, jolly music and a bright and toasty hearth. And I must say a hearty "amen" to one of the author's conclusions - we need to recover a generational approach to vocation and craftsmanship. Our culture suffers from a strong bias toward the instant and the cheap. Mansfield brings out the multi-generational nature of the Guinness brewing philosophy (and indeed worldview), where a craftsman would apprentice his sons in the family arts and secrets and those sons would grow up into the trade to one day raise up their own sons in the business and pass along the family craft with confidence and pride.
There are some things in life, like eating fast food meat products, where knowing more about the back story won't necessarily improve the experience. I can honestly say that the pints of Guinness I've raised after reading this book have tasted just a little bit richer for having consumed this literary appetizer. I'd give the beer 7 stars and the book 4.5. Cheers.
on May 1, 2010
I wish I could have written a more positive review about this book, but I found it a genuine disappointment.
This book had a lot of potential to be a fantastic book, but there are two major let downs which are the author's style of writing and the author's personal religious views that bias his writings. The author did masses of research and there is no doubt that he knows his stuff on the subject, but how he communicates it, is very poor. The book is ultimately a long winded, meandering and dry, fact based narrative with detours that really go nowhere, which in the end, just makes it a difficult book to read. I just got the impression that, the topic was TOO specific for a book of this size.
Secondly, the author is obviously a religious man himself and wanted to write a book about his two passions in life, Beer and Christianity. So what comes across is a biased view point on a topic that throughout the whole book struggles to stay together.
There is no doubt that Arthur Guinness, his son and family did great things for the people of Ireland and for the improvement of social standards of the time and like most people who buy this book, they do so because of an already underlying enthusiasm for the Beer and the history of the man who made it.
I bought this book because I wanted to learn more about the man behind the pint that I love so dearly, and I did learn lots about him, but I did not enjoy the journey with this author.
"The Search For God and Guinness" is a parallel story of a business, the family who ran it, their relatives who served the Church and the role the business played in its community. This book presents a two centuries long tale which is as fascinating as it is enjoyable.
Guinness, as most readers are probably aware, is the world famous Irish brewer of stout, a dark beer, as opposed to the lighter, Pilsner beers which dominate the American market. The business was started by Arthur Guinness, the first Arthur, in 1759 with the purchase of a lapsed brewery at St. James Gate in Dublin. Throughout the years the brewery would grow to the benefit of owners, customers, its workers and those who were objects of its benevolence.
The book begins with a history of beer in the millennia leading up to the advent of Guinness. The role of beer in the legend of Gilgamesh, and the lives of St. Patrick, Charlemagne and Martin Luther and the economies of Medieval monasteries is explained.
Guinness itself would become a major component of the Irish economy. It would employ thousands and provide markets for agricultural products used in its processes. It would supply refreshment for troops in Britain's wars and become a worldwide ambassador for Ireland. Of particular interest is the section on Guinness' first advertising initiatives and the stories behind the posters which I have often seen in a favorite restaurant.
Business success enables other successes also. Operating under the maxim that: "You cannot make money from people unless you are willing for people to make money from you", Guinness was a pioneer in paying high wages and providing clean housing, health care and opportunity for self -improvement to its workers and their families. The career of Dr. John Lumsden, which began in 1894 as assistant chief medical officer, directed the medical programs offered by Guinness. Lumsden conducted a survey of the living conditions of the workers and recommended to management incentives to improve the health and morals of its work force. During a career exceeding twenty years, Lumsden would be a fixture of Dublin life, even to the point of providing medical services to the wounded during the 1916 Easter Rising.
The success of the brewery enabled the Guinness Family to beautify Dublin city, partly by the gift of St. Stephen's Green, a lovely park in its heart. In the Nineteenth Century, when Dublin's St. Patrick's Cathedral was in disrepair, Benjamin Lee Guinness paid for its renovation. This generosity is remembered in a window reciting the Biblical verse, "I was thirsty and ye gave me drink."
Not all of the Guinness family would be employed in the brewery. Some would serve in Parliament while others defended the Empire on the battlefields of India and Europe. One branch would find their lives' work as prominent clergymen who led others to God. Author Stephen Mansfield explains the Protestant world view in which the Guinness family shared. That view held that all, whether in clerical or secular professions, had a duty to live their faith in whatever walk of life they strode. I found this to be similar to some modern religious movements.
This book is very well written. Throughout this fairly short work I never became bored or distracted. It appeals to many interests. It is a good introduction to a major product for those who study businesses or the beer industry. It presents examples of how a business has made itself a good corporate citizen. It shows how a family has branched out and achieved success in fields other than that in which it first achieved success.
For me, the greatest attraction is the perspective it presents of Irish history. Often Irish history is seen as an endless series of glorious bloody defeats fueled by bitter hatreds. In truth it, like the history of any country, is a sequence of endless days of a nation's life work places, homes, Churches and parks. "The Search For God and Guinness" gives the reader such a perspective of Irish life. For that I treasure it. Whatever your interest, business, historical or just a good story, I think that you will find what you are looking for here.
on December 7, 2009
On the website, [...], there is the slogan, 'Pure beauty. Pure GUINNESS'
The history of Guinness is pure beauty. Stephen Mansfield does a great job capturing the essence of the history that surrounds this beer, and the family that built up the empire of Guinness.
I was surprised to read that beer was a huge part of the Christian tradition until the early 1900's. The author shows in the first chapter how the Christian tradition was rooted in brewing beer. Mansfield states, 'This theory is supported by the facts that beer is so intertwined with the history of the Christian faith that it is tempting to believe that Christians discovered it.' The author moves on to add Reformers of the faith like Luther, and Calvin into the history of beer and Christianity. Even stating that Luther's wife was a master brewer before leaving the convent to marry Martin Luther. The Christian perspective changed in 1917 when the Woman's Christian Temperance Union formed in America and led the country to prohibition. Because of prohibition this led to the increasing numbers of Americans drinking hard liquor rather than the more moderate and healthy beer. This also led the Church to take a hard stance on alcohol because of the addiction to alcohol that rose out of the early 1920's.
The beauty of this book is the history of the Guinness family. After all the generations the men and women from Guinness either ended up as missionaries, or being apart of the business. Arthur Guinness, the founder of Guinness Beer saw a problem with the harsh alcohol gin. Arthur's thought was that gin destroys lives while beer is healthy and safe, enhancing rather than eroding good society. Arthur also was a political powerhouse in Ireland and helped change the views in society towards Catholics and Christians. Arthur was an innovator, and someone who was the foundation for the generations to come in his family in how to live a life of business and use your influence to further the kingdom of God.
This book is a great look at Guinness and how they as a family helped use their business to change Dublin, England, Europe, and the world.
on October 25, 2009
More a biography of the family and corporation than of the beer, The Search for God and Guinness nevertheless interweaves several interesting strands, including history, beer-making, and vast societal change. Mansfield keeps the storyline close to the people involved, painting interesting, believable, well-researched character portrayals.
The religious temper of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries played a major role in the company, from the top down and from the beginning. Company founder Arthur Guinness was influenced by evangelical preacher John Wesley, "who inspired him [Guinness] to use his wealth and talents to care for the hurting of mankind. Taking Scripture as his guide, Arthur did indeed serve the needy of his time and did indeed try to use his gifts in honor of his God."
Mansfield is a good theologian, and emphasizes the consistent outlook of the company and family, inspired as they were by this founding vision. The Guinness Company looked after its employees until the 1960s in almost unmatched, revolutionary ways, educating them, providing doctors, nurses, and social workers, and even offering housing assistance.
The Guinness Company was also at the forefront of technological change, including the logistics to bring its product to the Caribbean and West Africa, and the Japanese-like attention to detail and drive to constantly improve in all areas.
on February 4, 2014
This product came quickly. The quality of the book was better than expected: Hardcover with high quality paper.
An interesting read about the Guinness Family.