• Title: Drink: A Social History of America
  • Author: Andrew Barr
  • Released: 1999-03-01
  • Language: English
  • Pages: 466
  • ISBN: 0786705590
  • ISBN13: 978-0786705597
  • ASIN: 0786705590
"It is not generally appreciated how extreme American attitudes about alcohol appear from the other side of the Atlantic."

With an opening line such as that, it's not surprising that Drink: A Social History of America engages in its share of Yankee-bashing. British journalist 's look at American culture through a glass (somewhat blearily) is an attempt "to understand the history of the United States through its attitudes to liquor and its changing tastes in drink." In reality, however, Barr lurches and staggers from topic to topic--from prohibition to martinis to ice to air conditioning to bland American beer in one 10-page sample--in this swirling cocktail party of a book. That's not to say that Barr's book isn't enjoyable--in fact, it's often delightful. Barr serves up amusing stories (such as that of poor King Charles II of Navarre, immolated in an alcohol-soaked sheet), interesting factoids (the first grapevines in California were planted at the San Juan Capistrano mission in 1779), and strong opinions. Some of his opinions are funny, some are bound to raise hackles (that alcoholism is not a disease, but a "failure of personality," for example), while others are somewhat sensible but destined to be unpopular. Barr feels that Americans have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, so we should teach young people (and those who drink to excess) to drink sensibly, worry less about pregnant women having the occasional drink and more about prenatal care, and switch the focus from stricter drunk-driving laws to laws aimed at reducing dangers such as cell-phone use and road rage. Just when things get too serious, however, Barr is off again in another direction with another witty snippet. Unfortunately, like many partygoers, Barr tends to repeat himself--frequent footnotes direct the reader to "See Chapter 4," "See Chapter 4 again," or even "See Chapter 4 once more." Perfect for browsing or ingesting in small doses, too much Drink in one sitting may leave readers with a headache. --C.B. Delaney

From Publishers Weekly The main point of this cheerful mixture of polemic and cultural history is that Americans are both bad drunks and bad tee-totalers. London Sunday Times journalist Barr (Wine Snobbery, a social history of drink in Great Britain) makes entertaining work of tracing how alcohol has been intertwined with American history. Ever since European immigrants got Native Americans drunk in order to fleece them of their land and goods, booze has been a lubricant of American expansion and growth. During the American Revolution, alcohol became a symbol of independence (thanks to British attempts to tax molasses and Madeira), and rebels plotted resistance to the crown in New England taverns. Prohibition, in Barr's view, reflected a wider cultural conflict in which native-born WASPs attacked immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, viewing their custom of drinking at meals as symptomatic of sloth. "In its view of liquor, America is out of step with the rest of the Western world," chides Barr, arguing that Americans have never outgrown their tendency to oscillate between binge drinking and abstinence, between debauch and ineffectual puritanism. Barr further argues that alcoholism is not a disease but a failure of personality. And while he acknowledges that strict law enforcement and campaigns like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers have contributed to a decline in drunk-driving auto accidents, he opposes setting the minimum drinking age at 21. While his arguments may nettle or infuriate, his opinionated chronicle is briskly engaging and full of wondrous lore on Americans' eating and drinking habits. Eight-pages of b&w photos. QPB selection.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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