ALCOHOL: The World's Favorite Drug

Griffith Edwards, Author . St. Martin's/Dunne $23.95 (240p) ISBN 0-312-28387-3

Edwards's latest (after Alcohol and the Community) aims to consider alcohol as "a drug and as a social fact" and to dissect the myths and ambiguities that surround it. Claiming that he is neither for nor against its consumption, Edwards traces alcohol's roles in religious sacrament, as a recreational drug and—if used habitually—as the root of a destructive disease. He also explains the medicinal properties of alcohol, notes the pathology (and mythologies) of clinical treatments of alcoholism and chronicles the events leading up to the institution and failure of American Prohibition. As a member of the World Health Organization's Expert Advisory Panel on Alcohol and Drugs and editor-in-chief of Addiction, Edwards is surely an authority on the subject. He is a number-cruncher, however, rather than a historian, and his book is dreadfully sober. For example, the case histories he employs (they are "entirely invented, but absolutely true to life") read more like morally dense allegories. His analysis is not always thorough, either: when examining the origins and utility of Alcoholics Anonymous, Edwards freely admits that "the question of whether AA in a scientific sense actually works is not at all easy to answer," yet his follow-up commentary is just three short paragraphs. And at times the text relies so heavily on statistical data that readers may wonder if they're reading about C2H5OH or insurance premiums. While Edwards's history may interest the clinical community, billing the effort as the "complete popular story of alcohol" seems more like wishful thinking than fact. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/04/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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