Guns, germs, and steel might have transformed us from hunter-gatherers into modern man, but booze, sex, trash talk, and tripping built our civilization. Cracked editor Robert Evans brings his signature dogged research and lively insight to uncover the many and magnificent ways vice has influenced history, from the prostitute-turned-empress who scored a major victory for women’s rights to the beer that helped create—and destroy—South America's first empire. And Evans goes deeper than simply writing about ancient debauchery; he recreates some of history's most enjoyable (and most painful) vices and includes guides so you can follow along at home.
You’ll learn how to:
• Trip like a Greek philosopher.
• Rave like your Stone Age ancestors.
• Get drunk like a Sumerian.
• Smoke a nose pipe like a pre–Columbian Native American.
“Mixing science, humor, and grossly irresponsible self-experimentation, Evans paints a vivid picture of how bad habits built the world we know and love.”—David Wong, author of John Dies at the End
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.32(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.74(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
History's First Bartender
The most important history lesson I ever learned startedwith a big white bucket of rotting fruit in the kitchen of my first apartment.
I was nineteenat the time--too young to buy booze, but too old to spend my weekends sober. Itwas a conundrum. Sure, I knew people who were over twenty-one and willing tobuy me alcohol. But most of them were just as shady as you?d expect based onthe fact that they were willing to buy alcohol for teenagers. Also, I was poorenough that my options for affordable drinking were limited to six-dollarbottles of leaded vodka and, if I was really hard up, Boone's Farm.
But a goodfriend of mine made beer in his kitchen, and he'd walked me through the basicchemistry of the fermentation process. I knew it started with yeast, theone-celled fungi that live in vast colonies, feast on sugar, and poop outalcohol. Brewers simply trapped yeast, a bunch of rotting sugary plant matter,and water in a container and let it all sit for a while until, eventually, beerhappened.
I couldn'tafford to brew beer, though. A five-gallon batch cost upward of forty dollarsin ingredients, a fortune in teenager money. Thankfully, there was a dirtier,easier, route: I could buy a bunch of cheap fruit, mash it up, toss it into abucket with water and yeast, and let that turn into something foul butintoxicating. My friends and I called the resultant brew "hobo jug wine," andhere is the recipe we used:
1 five-gallon food-grade plastic bucket
1 length of hose, a finger's width or so
1 smaller bucket
Enough pineapples/oranges/apples/whatever fruit to fillup half the bucket
Peel and chopthe fruit and fill the bucket half full of fruit. Mash it into a pulp, and thenadd water, and cane sugar, if you feel like really taking your sobriety totask. If you're as poor as I was, you can make do with grabbing five gallons' worth of fruit juice concentrate from the grocer's freezer in lieu of honest,God-fearing fruit. Drop a packet of yeast (Fleischmann's bread yeast works justfine) into the mixture, stir, and stick the top of the bucket on.
This nextpart's critical: Booze gives off a lot of CO2 while it's fermenting. You'llwant to make a little hole in the lid of the bucket and run the hose out of itand into the smaller bucket filled with water. That hose will let enough CO2escape that your large bucket won't explode into shards of painful plastic-yshrapnel. (If you don?t run the hose into water, you'll get some fruit bitsspewed everywhere.) Alternatively, you can buy what's known as an airlock fromyour local brew store, as well as a five-gallon plastic brew bucket with a holealready in place. Either way, let the vile brew sit for two to four weeks.
My first batchof hobo jug wine burbled away in the kitchen for three weeks before we pulledthe top off and decanted it into bottles. I won?t pretend the brew smelledgood, but I'll remind you that I was nineteen and living in my first apartment.The smell of fermenting fruit was far from the worst odor to seep out of thatkitchen. All that mattered was that it worked. I'd crafted an alcoholicbeverage.
It was slightlysour, a little sweet, and tasted more than a bit like bread mold. But it alsogave off the telltale burn of alcohol as it slid down my throat, and by thethird glass I was no longer sober and thus much less judgmental of the flavor.At the time, all I knew was that I'd cracked the code to being a drunk teenagerwithout any money. It was only years later, while researching this book, that Irealized my young self had inadvertently re-created something very close to thefirst booze our primate ancestors ever swigged.
Ancient Alcohol in the
Humans aren't the only species with an appreciation foralcohol, or even the only ones with a tendency to take that appreciation toofar. In 2002, a pack of elephants (young and male, of course) tramped into avillage in Assam, India, stole a bunch of wine, and went on a violent, drunkenbender that cost six people their lives. So alcohol problems aren't unique toHomo sapiens, but we're certainly the species that's taken alcohol thefurthest.
It's easy toimagine some starving ancient human shoveling a handful of decomposing marulafruit down his throat and, a few seconds later, realizing he felt fuckingexcellent. But the story of humankind's introduction to alcohol actually startsmuch earlier, before men or women or anything remotely human ever existed. Ourability to metabolize alcohol, and thus get drunk, originated in some of thevery first primates on earth. The enzyme ADH4 is what lets us (and gorillas andmonkeys) digest alcohol, and the variation of this enzyme that lets our speciesappreciate the ethanol in a whiskey sour first showed up around ten millionyears ago.
This means therehave been hominids drinking much longer than there have been human beings. Theobvious question is: Why did we hold on to this adaptation? The primates who firststarted using alcohol must've been rewarded for their ability to tolerate itand their desire to seek it out. And reward in that last sentence means "theyhad lots of tiny, drunken animal sex." A casual look at your city's main dragon a Friday night illustrates the most confusing part of this story: Drunkenpeople aren't good at anything but starting fistfights, puking out of carwindows, and having trouble with their erections.
And yet alcoholis the one drug we know our primate grand-daddies and -mommies were doingmillions of years ago. So have we always loved drinking to excess? The mostlikely answer lies in the most aptly named theory in scientific history . . .
The Drunken Monkey Hypothesis
According to the "Drunken Monkey Hypothesis," there's adamn good reason our ancestors started drinking well before the evolutionarytime line's equivalent of five P.M. The Drunken Monkey Hypothesis (yes, that?sthe real name) states that regular drinking carried substantial benefits forour adorable, furry forbearers.
By the timefruit starts fermenting, it's gotten absolutely as ripe as it's going to get.Ripe also means "full of sugar" and thus full of calories. You need a lot ofcalories when your whole day is spent swinging from trees and fleeing fromjaguars. After all, one of alcohol's most well known side effects is the beerbelly. Beer and wine and liquor are all dense with calories. A regular drinkinghabit combined with a regular eating habit leads to a much fatter animal.Humans today aren't huge fans of all those extra calories, but that's onlybecause whole gas stations full of them assault our waistlines on an hourlybasis.
One of the greatchallenges for any species in the wild is simply not starving to death. Whenyou can travel from points A to B only by walking or running and have to huntand gather all your food, you burn a lot more fuel just staying alive. Alcoholguaranteed our ancestors more precious, life-giving calories. The telltalescent of fermentation was an easy way for them to know when a food was at itsmost caloric. Keeping a solid buzz was enough of an advantage that our simiangreat-[X]-grandparents developed noses specifically attuned to the odor ofethanol.
Scientists haveeven gone so far as to confirm that drinking alcohol while eating food makesyou take in more calories than if you just did one after the other. Mixingbooze and food is such a good survival strategy that the only monkeys whofucked enough to pass on their genes were the ones who drank. And yes, there'shard scientific evidence to support that claim.
Frank Wiens andAnnette Zitzmann, animal physiologists from the University of Bayreuth,Germany, noted in 2008 that pen-tailed tree shrews really seemed to prefergetting their calories from fermented fruit nectar than from anything else.
Pen-tailed treeshrews are significant, because in addition to looking like the result of araccoon mating with a pear, they're considered to be the spitting image of thefirst preprimates, genetically speaking. And while these guys have a lot incommon with our earliest ancestors, they also share something with Russiandockworkers; namely, the ability to put away nine or more drinks in a nightwithout feeling it. The pen-tailed tree shrew lives its life like one giant barcrawl, with tree branches as its taps and fermenting palm nectar in lieu ofcraft beer.
That nectar,colonized by naturally occurring air yeasts, can hit 3 to 4 percent alcohol bythe time a shrew starts slurping it up. Nine beers seem like more than a tinylittle rat-monkey should be able to handle without being too fucked-up to avoiddanger. But the pen-tailed tree shrew takes its alcohol like a Yeltsin. Thefact that the jungles of Malaysia aren't filled with drunken shews falling fromthe sky and splattering on the ground is proof that alcohol doesn't affect themquite the same way it affects us.
Again,scientists suspect the pen-tailed tree shrew is very close to our early primateancestors. This suggests that our ability to enjoy alcohol's intoxicatingeffects came after our desire to seek out and consume it. We started ourrelationship with alcohol because it made us less likely to starve to death.Over time we gained the ability to stand upright and, eventually, inventNetflix. Somewhere along that time line we also started getting drunk fromalcohol, and not just fat.
Today alcohol isthe most widely consumed intoxicant on earth. We spend well over a trilliondollars a year, worldwide, to get our buzz on, and for more sacred purposesthan mere drunkenness; Christian churches across the world use wine torepresent the blood of their god. The ancient Greeks and Romans took theopposite tack, and turned their alcohol into a god, Dionysus. There'sabsolutely no drug on earth that our species has carried further or investedmore creativity into than alcohol. And it all started with fermented palmnectar.
The Curious History of Palm
Trees and Alcohol
Palm trees are almost enough to make one believe in theexistence of a booze-loving God. The bertam palm, favored by the pen-tailedtree shrew, is essentially a living bar. It secretes a constant flow of nectarinto hundreds of little flowers during the month and a half when its pollen isripening. These flowers are colonized by a special sort of yeast, whichferments the nectar immediately. Small animals, like the tree shrew, are drawnby the smell of sugar and the irresistible allure of an open bar.
Visits to thebertam palm tavern benefit both the fuzzy little alcoholics and the treeitself. The tree shrews get open taps to binge on, and the palm gets a small,drunken army to help spread its pollen far and wide. The arrangement isdizzyingly complex: Yeasts feed off sugars in the nectar, and the brewery-likearoma of those fermenting sugars draws in tree shrews, sloths, and otheranimals. While each bertam palm gives off nectar for only a short time eachyear, individual members of the species are all fertile at different timesthroughout the year, ensuring a regular supply of free sugar beer for thesundry lushes of Malaysia.
The bertam palmisn't the only species of palm tree with a penchant for providing hooch toprimates. Phoenix dactylifera, the date palm tree, is believed to be one of humankind'searliest sources of alcohol. The syrup produced by palm trees is so high insugar, and the plants themselves so friendly to yeast, that each plant isbasically its own self-contained brewery.
Fermenting beerof any worthwhile strength can take two to three weeks, and usually a fair bitlonger. Once tapped and exposed to the air, palm syrup can reach 4 percentalcohol by volume (ABV) in just two hours. In parts of Sri Lanka and Malaysia,a lot of "wine" is still prepared this way today. It's not uncommon for peopleto drink upward of a liter in a day. This palm wine is nearly always consumedwithin a day or so of being fermented (evidently the taste doesn't age well).
I spoke to Dr.Brian Hayden, an archaeologist who's dedicated much of his life to the noblepursuit of studying ancient humans' drinking habits. He pointed out that theease with which palm sap ferments makes it a perfect solution for Muslims whowant to drink and still maintain plausible deniability.
"I was workingin Northern Africa for a while, and the palm sap they used to sell in themarkets . . . well, Muslims aren't supposed to drink alcohol but this stuff wasfermenting as you bought it. Just bubbling away."
Palm syrup islike the opposite of honey. Humans have used both to make alcoholic beveragessince time immemorial. But honey takes a very long time to ferment: Most meads(honey-based wines) take many months to properly prepare. Even modern quickmead, loaded with other fruits to provide the yeast with more easilyfermentable sugars, takes a good six weeks to brew. Meanwhile, palm syrup turnsinto booze almost immediately, but gets only worse with time.
Palm treesclearly want us to get drunk, fast. On the opposite side of things, I imaginebees would be pretty pissed at us if they knew we were turning their precioushoney into bad-decision fuel. But the relative difficulty of fermenting honey,and the dangers involved in acquiring it, made honey wine far more prized byancient drinkers. Palm wine never really took off on a global scale, but youcan probably stroll down the aisles of your local liquor store and find meadtoday.
I can't help butfeel a little sad at that. We've forgotten our roots. Primates weren'tintroduced to the wonders and terrors of alcohol by honeybees. The bertam palmdidn't exist ten million years ago, but the odds are good that something verymuch like the date palm tree was one of the earth's first bartenders.
And just howwould its drinks have tasted? Well . . .
HOW TO: Brew Ur-Booze
I'm going to answer the question right now, before we getto a recipe. Ur-booze tastes fucking awful. Unless you've got an absolutelyunquenchable sweet tooth or a borderline sexual obsession with the flavor ofcough syrup, you will not enjoy ur-booze. You'll struggle to finish a cup ofthe stuff. But if what I've described sounds good, or if you just hate yourtaste buds, here's what you'll need . . .
Excerpted from "A Brief History of Vice"
Copyright © 2016 Robert Evans.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Mother Nature: History's First Bartender 1
Chapter 2 Music: The First Drug? 14
Chapter 3 Celebrity Worship and the Greek Who Predicted TMZ 32
Chapter 4 How Drunken Parties Birthed (and Broke) Civilizations 45
Chapter 5 How Bad Behavior Saved Civilization 70
Chapter 6 Godstitution: The Hidden History of Sex Work 85
Chapter 7 Drugs, the Birth of Religion, and How to Trip Like a Philosopher 103
Chapter 8 Ancient Greek Acid and the Birth of Science 120
Chapter 9 Tobacco and Marijuana: Twins Displaced by Time 131
Chapter 10 Drugged Cultures and Acid Wars 147
Chapter 11 The Shrub That Conquered the World 169
Chapter 12 The Coffee-Drinking Bad Boys of Ancient Islam 181
Chapter 13 How We Evolved to Be Kinky 199
Chapter 14 The Hijacking of Genius: A Deep History of Designer Drugs 216
Chapter 15 The Curious History of Salamander Brandy 238
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In “A (Brief History of Vice” author Robert Evans employs his mordant wit to apply the principles of sociobiology to a study of civilization’s origins. He explains how a host of otherwise bizarre human behaviors (like foot fetishes) make sense when understood as adaptive responses to dangers and threats. Of course this isn’t a sociobiological textbook (though it is a very intelligent book) so Evans’ insights are presented with a sense of irony and humor (he IS a “Cracked.com” editor after all). He reminds me very much of Mary Roach, another author who popularizes scientific ideas with a combination of humor and research.A Brief History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization As interesting and entertaining as his explanations of the history of various vices are (and they are VERY entertaining), I enjoyed just as much his re-creations of a variety of ancient vices – mostly the drinkable kind. In these re-creations, Evans documents his experiments with ancient intoxicants, chronicling their effects on him, his friends, and his fiancée Magenta (who evidently has the patience of a saint). He also provides the recipes for these ancient head trips. Oddly, this is the point where the book veers deeper into philosophical waters, as Evans reflects on the cultural and psychological value of intoxicants and their role in making life better and (as Evans would certainly argue) more fun. A (Brief) History of Vice is a bizarre (but wonderful) blend of sociobiology, gonzo journalism, and Betty Crocker. Author Robert Evans elucidates the connection between behaviors and attitudes society frowns on (vices) and the ancient and robust underpinnings of our advanced civilization.