“Walton is particularly, and convincingly, engrossing, an elegant and forceful stylist, and were this a longer review I would quote copiously to prove the point. For the moment, you will have to take this on trust.”
The Barnes & Noble Review
Using classical references and up-to-the-minute cultural asides, British historian and wine writer Stuart Walton presents an engaging history of humankind under alcoholic influence. Whatever one's attitude toward inebriation -- lifetime teetotaler, moderate Merlot sipper, or recovering addict -- this book makes it clear that humanity has had a very hard time resisting the lure of the mind-altering experience, whether be it with ancient Greek wheat fungus, hearty medieval mead, pharmaceutical opiates, or postindustrial household solvents.
Like the cool professor who mixes his hard data with everyday anecdotes, Walton is easy to warm to. He's done his homework "in the stacks," and, as he indicates, in pubs, raves, and Amsterdam coffeehouses. And he makes some persuasive points, especially his contention that even the most rarified of oenophilic palettes first acquire a taste for wine because of its feel-good effects. His view on interdiction is more revolutionary; laws restricting substances have little to do with the costs of use or addiction, he says. Rather, governments control mind-altering matter because they make us giddy, sluggish, hepped up, or questioning -- in short, less eager to punch our timecards.
There are a few sour notes to Walton's brew, however. Its allusions be unfamiliar to the American reader (when was the last time you passed an addict on the street who was soused on hard cider?), and it's easy to imagine young experimenters skimming these pages for justifications to toke. But for those who savor reading about drinks in addition to sipping them, this compendium contains some heady stuff. Katherine Hottinger
Trying to separate pleasure from pain and law from leisure, British journalist Walton doesn't quite succeed in systematizing a subject that lends itself more readily to laughter and forgetting. He does not lack a solid argument: "Intoxication is a universal human theme. There are no recorded instances of fully formed societies anywhere in history that have lived without the use of psychoactive substances." The missteps begin in early Christianity, when Walton deviates from his ostensible subject, the history of intoxication, and gets onto the more pedestrian issue of policing the use of intoxicants. In the next few chapters, there are hints of how the 18th-century craze for coffee lent itself to revolutionary thinking, why the nip before work went the way of the dodo, or when cigarette smoking became demonized. But though Walton is clearly aware of all of these possible avenues of exploration, the book drones on about units of alcohol and schedules of chemicals and other ways that the governments of the U.S. and Britain have spoiled the fun. Content to simply set up and knock down straw men, Walton fails to ask the more provocative questions of why we have this drive to blottodom and what its social effects actually are. The final chapters on moderation and excess and the association between art and intoxication are a bit livelier, but this fascinating and heady topic awaits definitive treatment. (Oct. 22) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From British journalist Walton, an insightful overview of humanity’s historical and cultural attachment to various intoxicants.
Since ancient times, human beings have sought altered states of consciousness, states the author, who offers pharmaceutical, social, and legal histories of our fondness for substances, including opium, alcohol, cocaine, caffeine, heroin, LSD, marijuana, Ecstasy, and others. Walton views the desire for intoxication as normal and implies that vehement 20th-century efforts to ban such behavior have only exacerbated problems of addiction and fostered drug-related crime. At the same time, he acknowledges that it is characteristic of animal groups to shun those who do not share or exhibit "normal" consciousness, which could explain our own harsher methods of enforcing prohibitions. Many reform efforts, Walton points out, are based on worst-case scenarios of prolonged addiction and have often been fueled by lurid first-person accounts, a literary genre that includes De Quincy’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) and a 1904 volume provocatively titled Eight Years in Cocaine Hell. Some of the most interesting material here include Walton’s examination of the history of viniculture and the importance of intoxication in religious tradition—alcohol, after all, is still known as "spirits." He’s equally fascinating when describing experiments conducted on tetras, monkeys, and other highly social creatures that seek to identify community attitudes toward drugged members. Our past is in many ways a history of intoxication and artificial stimulation, Walton notes, making the point, for example, that political thought and revolutionary rhetoric in 17th-century Europewere greatly energized by the introduction of coffee. (Indeed, caffeine fueled so much radical talk that several monarchs ordered coffeehouses closed.) This responsible, tightly written account persuades through accumulation of fact rather than heated polemics; it deserves a prominent place in the emerging discussion reshaping understanding and policies regarding intoxication and the use of drugs and alcohol.
A thorough analysis for the general reader, breaking down a vast amount of erudition on a controversial subject.