Few drinks achieve such complex and ambiguous symbolism as the martini, and likely few writers could decode it as well as the polished Edmunds (Classics/Rutgers Univ.). Consider the martini a true American icon, says Edmunds (its status as an institution waxes and wanes), but a fungible one with so many associations that drinkers can grab whichever one they like and run with it. For many, the drink radiates what Edmunds calls ""seven simple messages"": it is American, urban and urbane, of high status, a man's drink, optimistic, adult, and a drink of the past, timelessly of the past. Almost all of the signifiers can now be labeled as ""once was"" (once, it was the drink of diplomats, the sophisticate, the denizens of the smoking room), for Edmunds serves up a welter of deflationary material, toppling the martini from its elite roost. He draws positive and negative imagery enough from literature (Dorothy Parker to Jack London), film (Buâ€žuel to Lang to The Lost Weekend), New Yorker cartoons, Cole Porter lyrics, W.H. Auden haiku, Jimmy Carter (who poked his finger in the eye of the three-martini lunch), to diagnose the martini with a severe but endearing multiple-personality disorder. Once he has covered the social history of the cocktail, he delves into its origins and its various configurations (martini rituals that are surely as codified as the tea ceremony), and there is a chapter on the classic martini glass--the stemmed, V-shaped vessel with its own iconic power--that is as elegant as the glass itself. Though it's clear from the book that Edmunds is a martini fancier, he is not a martini bully: He likes his martini straight up, but he also admits to many classically correct variations. Such is the unadorned pleasure of Edmunds's book, its rare scholarly intimacy, that there can be little doubt that he delighted in his fieldwork very much.