DRINK by Andrew Barr


A Social History of America
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An exploration of American drinking habits through time from a British scholar of booze. Barr (Wine Snobbery, 1992), a journalist for the London Sunday Times, offers a social history of drink in America, one organized by theme rather than by strict chronology. Throughout, one suspects that Barr never met a drink he didn’t like (at least, that is, as a subject of inquiry), and he defends alcohol as “a means of sharing, of cementing friendship, of defining status, of establishing loyalty, of entering adulthood, of declaring freedom.” Of sclerotic livers and broken homes he has little to say, preferring instead to puzzle over Americans’ puritanical attitudes toward such things as a lunchtime mug or two of brew—a good source of nutrition, he insists—and our insistence on keeping minors away from the Ripple. Supporters of MADD won’t much like Barr’s sensible yet controversial discussion of the flaws of lowering the acceptable blood-alcohol content of drivers, which, he says, will lead only to the creation of a whole new class of lawbreakers and thereby assure that “drink-driving laws will lose credibility”; they will also frown on Barr’s view that a little alcohol every now and then is a good stress-reliever for pregnant women. But collectors of trivia will doubtless admire Barr’s talent for ferreting out oddments of alcohol-related history, such as the English penchant for drinking beer in the place of water (the latter scorned in the class-conscious homeland, Barr writes, because it was free) and the connection between anti-German sentiment in WWI and the establishment of Prohibition. Barr might have done better to write more such history, thus living up to his book’s subtitle, and to spend less time numbering the virtues of John Barleycorn in the face of alcohol’s critics. All in all, Barr’s book makes for good bathroom reading for the family tosspot—and for good talk-show fodder. (b&w photos, not seen), (QPB selection)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-7867-0559-0
Page count: 480pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1999


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