Mansfield, Stephen. The Search for God and Guinness. A biography of the beer that changed the world. Thomas Nelson. 2009.
This is indeed an unusual title for a biography. As the story develops it becomes quite apparent that the mixture of ‘beer and God’ is really what this story is all about. Wealth can be used to do much good. That is certainly a scriptural concept and the Guinness story illustrates this well. It hasn’t happened yet but I will probably have to follow my reading of this book with a sampling of Guinness for myself. This is a fascinating read.
When the author heard a Presbyterian minister give a brief account of Arthur Guinness’s call from God to make a drink that would be good for the men of Ireland, he was immediately motivated to make the Guinness story the topic of this biography.
The history of beer goes back as far as the civilization of man. Throughout that history beer has been a part of religious communities. Because of the water pollution in many countries beer became the drink of choice.
Much of the research for this book took place in Dublin, Ireland. The legacy of Guinness the brewer to the city of Dublin is compared to the legacy of Christopher Wren the architect to the city of London. Arthur Guinness “understood his success as forming a kind of mandate, a kind of calling to a purpose of God beyond just himself and his family to the broader good he could do in the world”. (59) He established his brewery on a four acre site at St. James’s Gate, Dublin. The yeast he used was reusable and is still used today. It was given the nickname “God-is-good”. (73) Only two second generation family members, Arthur Guinness II and Benjamin Lee Guinness (who was knighted), carried on the business in good and bad times. It was Benjamin that was responsible for the restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The restoration was completed in 1865. From 1837 to 1887 the Guinness sales increased thirty-fold. When Edward Guinness was at the helm of the organization he made Guinness a public trading company and this resulted in rapid expansion and prosperity.
A thrilling part of the Guinness story is how much good was done with its wealth. “Guinness the beer is magnificent, yes, but it is the Guinness culture that for nearly two centuries changed the lives of Guinness workers, transformed poverty in Dublin, and inspired other companies to understand that care for their employees was their most important work. It was the Guinness culture of faith and kindness and generosity that moved men to seek out ways to serve their fellow men, to mend what the harshness of life had torn.” (122) John Lumsden, a young doctor hired by Guinness became the driving force behind the social reforms supported by Guinness funds. He was knighted by King George V.
There were three groups represented in the Guinness family. First there were the brewers, then the bankers, and then there were the “Guinnesses for God” (156) (missionaries and ministers). All three groups however were very much “connected with God”. (159)
Henry Grattan Guinness the grandson of Arthur became a famous preacher. He was compared with D. L. Moody and George Whitefield. He was a mentor to the likes of Thomas Barnado and J. Hudson Taylor. He established Harley House and College which trained missionaries for China. He became a speaker and author of international fame. Some historians consider the missionaries and ministers of the Guinness family more influential than the brewers and bankers.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, Guinness had become the largest, most productive, most prosperous beer producer in history. Set-backs happened because of WW1 and the Irish struggle for independence. Prohibition in the U.S. was another serious blow to the business. When Guinness leadership decided to go into an advertizing market (it had up to this point counted on the product to sell itself) great growth happened. John Gilroy developed the advertizing, e.g. “the Guinness Book of Records”. (241)
Edward Cecil expressed the Guinness legacy and wisdom as follows: “we must invest in those who serve us if we expect them to serve us well”. (260)