Drink: A Social History

Andrew Barr, Author
Andrew Barr, Author Carroll & Graf Publishers $27.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7867-0559-7
Paperback - 480 pages - 978-0-7867-0743-0
Hardcover - 411 pages - 978-0-593-03510-8
Hardcover - 466 pages - 978-0-7567-5321-4
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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. (Apr.)
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