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Weekend Reading: The Search For God and Guinness by Stephen Mansfield

August 10, 2012

While it is impossible to truly separate the reviewer from the review, I believe that a book review should be focused on the book rather than the reviewer. That being said, I think a little context is in order. I do not drink beer or other alcoholic beverages. I do not promote the use of beer or other alcoholic beverages. I pastor a church whose official position is to not partake in any alcoholic beverages. The book I am about to review is about beer and the family that made this brand of beer. The Search for God and Guinness by Stephen Mansfield (2009, Thomas Nelson) is the story of beer, of Guinness beer, and of the Guinness family. Let there be no question, Arthur Guinness was a committed, Protestant, evangelical Christian. His life and family legacy certainly bear that out. For those of you who, like me, do not drink nor promote alcohol to others, I think the end of the review will be interesting to you.

While beer predates the founding of the Guinness brewery in Dublin, Ireland, by Arthur Guinness in 1759, Mansfield makes the case that Guinness was one of the first breweries to make a quality, consistent beer.

The Search for God and Guinness is about 260 pages and only 6 chapters. The sheer length of some of the chapters made it a little difficult to read, as I tend to read in short bursts as I have the time. Mansfield would have done better to have labeled these chapters as sections with shorter chapters within them. The chapters would have made really good sections. They are:

Before There Was Guinness: This is basically the history of beer. Mansfield goes back as far as the ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, and other ancient cultures. He estimates that, largely through a series of accidents, these people learned how to use barley to bake bread and that likely led to a discovery of how to make beer. The author then spends considerable time describing the role beer has played in various cultures throughout history, including the history and culture of the Christian church.

The Rise of Arthur: Young Arthur Guinness learned to brew beer from his father who served on the estate of Dr. Arthur Price, the Archbishop of Cashel. After the death of Dr. Price, Arthur was left the generous inheritance of £100. Arthur Guinness used this sum to invest in his own education and experience in the trade of brewing. Then, in 1759, Arthur Guinness founded the Guinness brewery in Dublin by signing a lease for the famous property at St. James’s Gate—a lease that gave him rights to that property for nine thousand years! And this is where the dynasty began. He married, had children, and operated a successful business.

At the Same Place By Their Ancestors: In this third chapter, Mansfield tells the history of the Guinness brewery and the branch of the family that led it. These were talented businessmen who were gifted in their field. They made the brewing of beer a more scientific process. This allowed a more consistent product and made it possible to export the beer to many markets. In all honesty, this was the least interesting portion of the book. It has value, but you do not really see it until the end of the book.

The Good That Wealth Can Do: Because of the corporate and personal successes of the Guinnesses, there was a decision constantly before them: Is our wealth for our own benefit of for us to benefit others? Really, this is a question that all believers face. Does God gift and bless us for us or for others? In both cases, the answer clearly is that it is for others. The Guinness family built a corporate culture of generosity to their employees, their community, and their country. Some examples of this are:

  • A Guinness worker during the 1920’s enjoyed full medical and dental care, massage services, reading rooms, subsidized meals, a company-funded pension, subsidies for funeral expenses, educational benefits, sports facilities, free concerts, lectures and entertainment, and a guaranteed two pints of Guinness beer a day. (page xxviii)

  • During World War I, Guinness guaranteed all of its employees who served in uniform that their jobs would be waiting for them when they came home. Guinness also paid half salaries to the family of each man who served. (page xxviii)

  • A Guinness chief medical officer, Dr. John Lumsden, personally visited thousands of Dublin homes in 1900 and used what he learned to help the company fight disease, squalor, and ignorance. These efforts also let to the establishment of the Irish version of the Red Cross, for which Dr. Lumsden was knighted by King George V. (page xxviii)

These were all things the company and the Guinness family chose to do. None of this was mandated from the outside by government, unions, or any other organization. This is also the first chapter in the second half of the book. I found the second half to be much more interesting.

The Guinnesses For God: I mentioned earlier that Arthur Guinness was a committed Christian. This was true of many of his descendants as well.

Historians of the Guinness saga tend to divide the family into three lines. There are the “brewing Guinnesses,” of course, who are the best known due to their connection to the wildly popular global brand. There are also the “banking Guinnesses,” who descend from Samuel Guinness, broght of the first Arthur, and have grown an empire that began with gold beating in the 1700s and continues in global high finance today.

Then there is the line that Guinness historians tend to call the Guinnesses for God.” These descend from John Grattan Guinness, the youngest son of First Arthur, and continue through the centuries in lives so turned to God and so given to adventures of faith that, as Frederic Mullally has written in his thrilling The Silver Salver: The Story of the Guinness Family, they make the other Guinness lines “seem almost pedestrian.” (pages 155-156)

This is the line of Guinnesses that became missionaries and ministers. They preached alongside the likes of Moody and Spurgeon. They helped make missionary endeavors like those of Hudson Taylor possible. They established schools for missionaries. They disciple other individuals who went on to found orphanages and schools and become missionaries.

Twentieth-Century Guinness: In this final chapter, Mansfield returns to the story of the brewery and the changes it underwent in the past century. While the Guinness brewery experienced unprecedented growth, it was not all good times. The biggest challenges it faced were the two world wars and prohibition. They managed to weather those storms and rise to dominance again. In 1954, they introduced what has become one of the best-selling book series of all time: The Guinness Book of Records. It was originally designed to contain the types of statistics that would come up for discussion at pubs and sports clubs. As the popularity of Guinness continued to grow, the leadership decided to diversify. They made the decision to go against a 250 history of intentionally only dealing in beer. They diversified into liquor and other alcoholic beverages. In 1987, for the first time, day-to-day operations of the Guinness breweries was not overseen by a member of the family. In 1997, Guinness merged with another company to form Diageo, the largest alcohol beverage company in the world.

Mansfield does a good thing at the end of the book. He draws some lessons from the Guinness story that we can emulate today. These are true regardless of your stand on the use of beer. I will only list them; he goes into more depth in the book. These are some great lessons I may write some more about later.

  1. Discern the ways of God for life and business.

  2. Think in terms of generations yet to come.

  3. Whatever else you do, do at least one thing very well.

  4. Master the facts before you act.

  5. Invest in those you would have invest in you.

This was an interesting look at a well known company and the family behind it. Regardless of whether you agree with their line of work, it is worth examining a 250 year old institution to look for lessons to apply today.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy history, trivia, and the culture of Ireland and the UK. What are your thoughts?

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