May 24th, 2007

Book Review – The Joy of Drinking

Joy of Drinking - book

By Scott N. Howe

In days gone by, people drank booze because drinking pretty much anything else would kill them. This may sound scary but, believe you me, our ancestors made the best of this bad situation. They built villages around beer, formed churches on wine, raised armies with rye. Our founding fathers even wrote the U.S. Constitution in between epic sessions of whiskey, wine, and cider intake.

This all may be hard to comprehend in our modern era of $12 appletinis sipped while sending text messages to clients from a booth at the back of a theme bar. Still, understanding how we got from there to here can teach valuable lessons to today’s tippler. Fortunately, author Barbara Holland has collected these lessons in a small but tasty new tome, The Joy of Drinking.

Holland explains how booze has been part of all the world’s cultures since the world started developing cultures. Everywhere and forever, people have been picking the local fruits, vegetables, nuts, and flowers and concocting soul-soothing, mind-expanding potables. She calls drink “the social glue of the human race,” and claims that “(N)o major civilization ever arose from a land of water drinkers.” As such, she cannot abide prohibitionists or coffee achievers, and she heaps special scorn on modern health nuts with their plastic water bottles and desperate commitment to wellness. Holland also takes a few shots at know-it-all drink snobs. “(I)n the metropolitan haunts of the highly sophisticated,” she snarls, “the cocktail is no longer an instrument of friendship but a competitive fashion statement, or one-upmanship.” Ouch.

Instead, she lavishes high praise on elegantly sloshed icons like Nick and Nora Charles of the Thin Man movies and wistfully wonders what it might have been like to down a few tankards with Bill Shakespeare and his literary pals at the Mermaid Tavern. Holland even devotes an entire chapter to the hangover, reporting that for much of history, the morning after was nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, a bad hangover was once a sign of worldly sophistication and social cachet!

If you’ve ever felt guilty (even a little bit), about your drinking habits, then pick up The Joy of Drinking immediately. In a few short pages, you’ll realize, dear drinker, that you are part of an ancient and noble tradition, one that links you to the great leaders, the great artists, and the just-plain-folks who have made life worth living since the dawn of time. In fact, in a few short pages, your inhibitions will disappear, a warm glow will encase you, and all will be well.

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