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Drink: A Cultural History of Alcoholby Iain Gately
Synopses & Reviews
In the tradition of wildly popular histories such as Salt, an intoxicating tour of "the cause ofand solution toall of life's problems": alcohol.
Alcohol is a fundamental part of western culture and an essential element of Christianity. It is the most controversial part of our diet, simultaneously nourishing and intoxicating. We have been drinking as long as we have been human, and for better or worse, alcohol has shaped our civilization.
Drink investigates the history of this Jekyll and Hyde of fluids, tracing mankind's love/hate relationship with alcohol from ancient Egypt to the present day. Along the way it scrutinizes the drinking habits of presidents, prophets, and barbarian hordes, and features drinkers as diverse as Homer, Ernest Hemingway, William Shakespeare, Al Capone, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson.
Drink further documents the contribution of alcohol to the birth and growth of the United States, taking in the War of Independence, the Pennsylvania Whiskey revolt, the slave trade, and the failed experiment of national Prohibition. Finally, it provides a history of the world's most famous drinks and the world's most famous drinkers. Enthusiasts of craft brews and fine wines will discover the origins of their favorite tipples. Packed with trivia and colorful characters, Drink amounts to a sloshed history of the world: Better make it a double.
"With the same ambitious sweep and needle-in-history's-haystack approach of his previous tome on tobacco, Gately takes on all things alcohol. From absinthe to Jay-Z's boycott of allegedly racist Cristal, from Mayan pulque to Pilsner Urquell, he covers the history and the culture of the medicinal and mind-altering product that since at least 8000 B.C. has been part of human civilization. The book's first chapters chronicle the history of fermentation and distillation from early civilization through the late Middle Ages, before the narrative's bulk gives over to alcohol's story since the colonization of the New World. Gately touches on such minutiae as the tableware and music selections onboard the expedition ships that followed Raleigh to America and an exacting chronology of laws enacted to ban the sale of alcohol to Indians. He ecumenically includes historical information from every civilized continent; yet for a book on booze, it's at first drier than straight gin, definitely for those who like their history neat. Like a good party, however, it becomes livelier as the author works in such far-flung cultural materials as the plays of Alfred Jarry and Budweiser's '80s mascot, Spuds McKenzie. In the end, Gately ranges so wide and deep that this may become a classic reference on the subject. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Iain Gately, a British writer who six years ago published "Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization," now turns his attention to booze, a subject, it goes without saying, of similar character but considerably larger import. "Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol," is thorough, informative, briskly readable and witty. It is likely to be enjoyed more by those who take the... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) occasional (or more than occasional) drink than by those who do not, but a central theme should be of interest to all readers: Like it or not, alcohol has been and always will be with us, an important part of human history, culture and society. It can't be wished away, as should be understood by Americans above all, having suffered through Prohibition and its appalling consequences. Better, instead, to face up to the inescapable reality of it and try to understand the many ways in which, over the ages, we have used and abused it, profited and suffered from it, refined it and been changed by it. Gately gets down to that business in his opening paragraph: "Alcohol is a fundamental part of Western culture. It is the most controversial part of our diet, simultaneously nourishing and intoxicating the human frame. Its equivocal influence over civilization can be equated to the polar characters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. At times its philanthropic side has appeared to be in the ascendant, at others the psychopath has been at large. Throughout history, the place of alcohol in our meals, medicines, and leisure activities has been a matter of fierce debate. Whereas some cultures have distinguished it as a sacred fluid, whose consumption should be limited to ceremonial occasions, others have treated it as a kind of food and ignored, or accommodated, any incidental effects that it might have upon the psyche, and a few have even tried to exclude it from society altogether. Such differing views have often been concurrent, thus increasing the mystery surrounding alcohol. In both ancient Greece, and the present millennium, it has been credited with the powers of inspiration and destruction." To the ancient Greeks, alcohol was an essential part of a civilized society: "Our word wine derives from their oin, whose consumption was considered to be both one of the defining characteristics of Hellenic civilization and a point of difference between its members and the population of the rest of the world, whom they termed barbaroi, or barbarians." Rome, "the next great drinking civilization to emerge in the classical world," was transformed "from a sober society, suspicious of both alcohol and drunkenness, to a major producer, populated with practiced and discriminating drinkers," and as its empire spread, so too did its permissive attitudes toward alcohol. Though Christianity is often associated in the popular mind with opposition to alcohol, the historical truth suggests otherwise. From the beginning, "the single most important rite of the Christians was the ceremony of the Eucharist, at which they gathered to share bread and wine, in accordance with the instructions of their founder," yet Christianity "differentiated this sacred obligation from secular tippling, which it discouraged, except in moderation." Later, holy orders, in particular the Cistercians, played essential roles in the development of sophisticated techniques for making wine and beer, and to this day some beverages are closely identified with their monastic origins. The subsequent history of alcohol is one of growth in consumption and acceptance punctuated by periods of reaction and temperance. In the Middle Ages it was the universal "panacea, recommended by such luminaries as Arnald of Villanova (d. 1315) as a cure for almost any ailment." In his "Big Book of Distillation" (1512), Hieronymous Braunschweig wrote of aqua vitae: "It eases diseases coming of cold. It comforts the heart. It heals all old and new sores on the head. It causes a good color in a person ... it eases the pain in the teeth and causes sweet breath ... it heals the short-winded. It causes good digestion and appetite ... and takes away belching. ... It gives also courage in a young person and causes him to have a good memory." The development of distillation — which was discovered and perfected by Muslims — greatly altered the world of alcohol. The rise of strong drink, especially rum and gin, had repercussions far beyond the mere consumption of alcohol. Rum was a driving force in the slave trade and contributed mightily to many celebrated New England fortunes. It was also used by colonists as a "gift or sweetener" for Native Americans, whose fondness for and susceptibility to it produced unhappy repercussions that persist into the 21st century. Gin became common in England in the early 1700s, setting London off on a prolonged, spectacular and destructive spree: "In 1700, the average English adult drank a third of a gallon of gin per annum. By 1723, statistics suggested that every man, woman, and child in London knocked back more than a pint of gin per head per week," resulting in "shocking levels of drunkenness," chiefly among the poor. Gin was employed by the British elite to distract and palliate the poor, but finally things got so bad that corrective legislation was enacted, and the binge abated. Whisky — spelled with an "e" in the American colonies — was a part of the heritage of the Scotch Irish and was distilled wherever they settled, hence the great single malts of Scotland and the equally great if entirely different bourbons of Kentucky and Tennessee. The imposition in 1791 by the new federal government of an excise on whiskey was vehemently opposed in Pennsylvania and led to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, one of the first important challenges to George Washington's authority, one he met swiftly and firmly. Young America unquestionably was a nation of boozers: "In 1810 federal statistics show that the six main whiskey-producing states together distilled twice as many gallons of whiskey per annum as there were people in America. ... If statistics could predict the effect of drink on a population, by rights Americans should have been languishing en masse in emaciated heaps, their birthrate and life expectancy should have collapsed, and crime should have exploded." None of this happened, but these excessive drinking habits led, perhaps inevitably, to the temperance movement, which has been a persistent presence in American life. It too has had its excesses, most catastrophically Prohibition, but organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have had a positive influence in encouraging, if not abstinence, moderation. "The forces of temperance were on the rise in the 1980s," Gately writes, "and better provided than ever before with medical and statistical ammunition to take on the demon drink. Moreover, a dry spirit permeated the age. American consumption was in decline. ... Consumer tastes were changing. It was chic to look tanned, trim, and toned." That is true today, but my own observation suggests that the 20-something urban professionals of 2008 are more into alcohol than were their counterparts two decades ago. In taking us from ancient Greece to MADD, Gately doesn't miss a beat, at least none that I can identify. From the Australian wine industry to boozing as a "male prerogative" in Japan; from Louis Pasteur's discovery in 1862 of the central role played by yeast in converting "the sugars in wine and beer to alcohol"; from the fad for absinthe and its eventual prohibition in many places; from the shift away from saloons to drinking at home; to the staggering popularity in Hong Kong of French Cognac — it's all here, authoritatively and often amusingly recounted. As an example of the latter, I have special fondness for this paragraph: "Other British writers followed (Oscar) Wilde west (in the 1880s), and all were equally enamored with the liquid hospitality they received in Pacific America. Rudyard Kipling, who found San Francisco a 'mad city — inhabited for the most part by perfectly insane people whose women are of remarkable beauty,' was much taken by the Pisco punch, a drink then in vogue, whose principal ingredient was a clear Peruvian brandy. Sweet to the taste, yet highly potent, this ambrosia inspired Kipling to speculate on its composition: 'I have a theory it is compounded of cherubs' wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset, and fragments of lost epics by dead masters.'" Enough. Since this review began by quoting Gately's opening words, let's end it with his closing ones: "Salud, Kan pei, Chin-chin, Prost, Yum sing, Skol, Slainte, A votre sante, Na zdrowie, The king o'er the water, or just plain Cheers!" Jonathan Yardley's e-mail address is yardleyj(at symbol)washpost.com. Reviewed by Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[A] book to be read with pleasure, best sipped in leisure like good bourbon." Dallas Morning News
"A grand, always engaging survey of the role of booze in both cultural and social history." Booklist
"A heady cocktail." Kirkus Reviews
A spirited look at the history of alcohol, from the dawn of civilization to the modern day
Alcohol is a fundamental part of Western culture. We have been drinking as long as we have been human, and for better or worse, alcohol has shaped our civilization. Drink investigates the history of this Jekyll and Hyde of fluids, tracing mankind's love/hate relationship with alcohol from ancient Egypt to the present day.
Drink further documents the contribution of alcohol to the birth and growth of the United States, taking in the War of Independence, the Pennsylvania Whiskey revolt, the slave trade, and the failed experiment of national Prohibition. Finally, it provides a history of the world's most famous drinks-and the world's most famous drinkers. Packed with trivia and colorful characters, Drink amounts to an intoxicating history of the world.
A spirited look at the history of alcohol from the dawn of civilization to the twenty first century
For better or worse, alcohol has helped shape our civilization. Throughout history, it has been consumed not just to quench our thirsts or nourish our bodies but also for cultural reasons. It has been associated since antiquity with celebration, creativity, friendship, and danger, for every drinking culture has acknowledged it possesses a dark side.
In Drink, Iain Gately traces the course of humanit‛s 10,000 year old love affair with the substance which has been dubbed“the cause of¬—and solution to¬—all of lif‛s problems” Along the way he scrutinises the drinking habits of presidents, prophets, and barbarian hordes, and features drinkers as diverse as Homer, Hemmingway, Shakespeare, Al Capone, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. Covering matters as varied as bacchanals in Imperial Rome, the gin craze in 17th century London, the rise and fall of the temperance movement, and drunk driving, Drink details the benefits and burdens alcohol has conveyed to the societies in which it is consumed. Gatel‛s lively and provocative style brings to life the controversies, past and present, that have raged over alcohol, and uses the authentic voices of drinkers and their detractors to explode myths and reveal truths about this most equivocal of fluids.
Drink further documents the contribution of alcohol to the birth and growth of the United States, taking in the war of Independence, the Pennsylvania Whiskey revolt, the slave trade, and the failed experiment of National Prohibition. Finally, it provides a history of the worl‛s best loved drinks. Enthusiasts of craft brews and fine wines will discover the origins of their favorite tipples, and what they have in common with Greek philosophers and medieval princes every time they raise a glass.
A rollicking tour through humanit‛s love affair with alcohol, Drink is an intoxicating history of civilization
About the Author
Iain Gately is the author of Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization. Raised in Hong Kong, he studied law at Cambridge University and worked in the financial markets of London.
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