If you are searching for something to read this St. Patrick's Day week, I want to strongly recommend a book I discovered several years ago: "The Search For God and Guinness," by Stephen Mansfield.
This is a fascinating history of the Guinness family in Ireland, and how the family's faith affected the way the company did business.
If the idea of mentioning God in the same breath with a dark, foamy stout raises your eyebrow, it shouldn't. In the late 1700s, when Arthur Guinness founded his brewery, sanitary conditions in Dublin meant the drinking water was filthy and there were few non-alcoholic choices. Beer was looked on at the time as a healthful alternative to hard liquor.
Some people, Mansfield says, have gone overboard in saying that Guinness saw his profession as a divine calling, but in any case he had no reason to see it as counter to his faith. Guinness was a man of faith, a follower of John Wesley and the first man to introduce the Sunday School movement to Ireland.
In the 1800s, different branches of the Guinness family went different directions. Some continued to operate the brewery. Others went into the ministry. Still others became bankers. Mansfield shines a light on the Guinness brewery's commendable business practices, some of which were decades ahead of their time. The company spent huge amounts of money working to alleviate poverty and substandard housing in Dublin, and one of the Guinness heirs even moved into a slum with his new bride so that he could supervise poverty programs there. Guinness offered its employees benefits such as medical care before they were expected, and even paid for in-country vacation trips.
Mansfield does a great job of telling the story, and reacted to it in ways he didn't expect when he took on the project. He starts with the history of beer, and follows through to the acquisition of Guinness by a big conglomerate, taking it out of the family's control. It's a compelling story throughout.