cover image Absinthe


Chronicle Books, Barnaby Conrad. Chronicle Books, $19.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-87701-486-7

Few drinks conjure the cultural associations and charged atmospheres that absinthe does, even now, some 70 years after its ban in Europe and the U.S. Freelance writer Conrad sees absinthe ``as a skeleton key to the fin de siecle's secrets.'' An engaging combination of art history, sociology, travelogue and artists' biography, this clever hybrid recounts both the praise heaped upon the alcoholic beverage and the tales of destroyed creativity and absinthe-related violence that led to its prohibition. Turn-of-the-century Paris comes alive, as does its expatriate society of the '20s. Oil paintings, etchings and artifacts with absinthe themes by Manet, Van Gogh, Lautrec and others adorn the pages, and quotes and anecdotes about the green liqueur by Wilde, Baudelaire and Hemingway fill the well-researched text. More sober chapters include ``The Origins of Ancient and Modern Absinthe'' and ``Absinthe and Politics,'' which links certain temperance movements to anti-Semitism. Like its subject, this volume is addictive and enchanting. (Dec.)