A Short History of Drunkenness: How, Why, Where, and When Humankind Has Gotten Merry from the Stone Age to the Present

Mark Forsyth. Three Rivers, $18 (256p) ISBN 978-0-525-57537-5
Etymologist Forsyth (The Etymologicon) presents an entertaining jaunt through intoxication over the ages, from prehistoric times to Prohibition, with equal parts enlightening data and delightful color commentary. He takes readers on a tour of an ancient Sumerian tavern (where the law dictated that bartenders failing to give correct change would be executed), and elucidates the differences between inns, taverns, and alehouses in medieval London. He explores religious and cultural rituals related to drinking over the ages, including ancient Egypt’s orgiastic Festival of Drunkenness, the Greek symposium, and the Roman convivium, where one’s designated seat at the table spoke volumes about one’s social status. Forsyth quotes literary sources extensively, including The Epic of Gilgamesh, Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, and Animal Farm, as well as both the Old and New Testaments. While some of the material covered will be familiar, Forsyth also includes some lesser-known details, like the provenance of the phrase “Dutch courage” and the history of the British “Rum Corps” in Australia. Forsyth’s clever sense of humor and flair for perceiving subtle historical ironies make for livelier and more amusing reading than any cold recitation of facts. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/05/2018
Release date: 05/08/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 256 pages - 978-0-241-29768-1
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