John Barleycorn: Alcoholic Memoirs
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John Barleycorn: Alcoholic Memoirs

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  1,108 ratings  ·  88 reviews
First published in 1913, John Barleycorn is the first intelligent literary treatise on alcohol in American literature. London offers acute generalizations on Barleycorn together with a close narrative of his own drinking career, which was heroic in scale. It is, however, as an exercise in autobiography that his book principally attracts the modern reader. London's life was...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published November 19th 1998 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1913)
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Sarah Keliher
May 27, 2010 Sarah Keliher rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: alcoholic poets, mad revolutionaries
I always believed that Jack London kind of sucked. Like most people, I read 'To Build a Fire' and Call of the Wild in school, and was bored senseless, wishing the hero would just freeze to death faster.

John Barleycorn proved me completely wrong. In it, London is funny and sharp and angry about all the right things. Lately it's been marketed as a pro-prohibition book, which I think obscures the point. London is not concerned with alcoholism as a disease. What he's trying to pin down is the malev...more
Whispers from the Pirate's Ghost Whisper
If you want to know what it’s like to live the life of an alcoholic, read this. In this book, Jack London tells us what it is like to live the life of an alcoholic. There is no substitute for a firsthand account. I have spent the last 10 years working as a Substance Abuse Counselor. This is an amazing story. It is a powerful story. It is either a completely true story (if you believe, as I and many others do) that this is an autobiographical story) or this is a story based on unvarnished truth a...more
Ironic that a book read in preparation for a wine trip to Sonoma would make me understand Prohibition, but there you have it. I get it. Jack London vividly explores a world before TV, before Radio, before the Internet when the local saloon was, for the working classes, their entertainment, their Facebook, the place to network, the place to get a low interest loan, the place to stay warm in the winter, and the place to escape their dull lives. It was, in short, every Iphone application married to...more
Me, I drink. My father drank. But he had a hollow leg and I never but once saw him the worse for liquor, the New Year's Day morning (a day on which my parents traditionally had a revolving-door party for their friends and relations) when Brother Peter phoned from Mexico to state that he and his buddy, Louie (who would later die of pneumonia in Niger, but that's another story), were in a Mexican prison and his Porsche was being held for ransom. That day we did (my other brothers and I) have to he...more
Sam Quixote
The modern myth of the alcoholic or drug addict artist has only been with us a short while. Lord Byron the debauched poet drinking and fucking his way through his short life, Coleridge getting more and more addicted to drugs, eventually losing his talent, family, health and mind. From then we have the drink addled death of Poe, to the Victorian writers who would use opium like Wilkie Collins and who would create characters who openly used cocaine and opium like Sherlock Holmes. And then we come...more
Reading “John Barleycorn” has given me a whole new appreciation for London and his writing style. The only other books I’ve read of Jack London’s was when I was a kid, “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang”.
John Barleycorn begins with London’s vote for women’s suffrage in the hopes that women would vote for prohibition. His thought process was that the availability of alcohol causes the desire to drink. He then goes on to explain his own experiences with alcohol and the effects it has had on his l...more
Preliminery: I am not sure which edition of this classic I read. I purchased my ancient hardback copy at an underground Socialist bookstore across the street from Charing Cross/St. Pancras station in London (Harry Potter movie fans will recognize this location by the Gothic spires). I paid an absurdly high price of 8 pounds but then the Brits have always overcharged from their books, even after Kindle came out.
This book is a classic, an undiscovered diamond in the rough by one of the greatest wr...more
A strange memoir - he keeps on claiming he is not an alcoholic as he drinks huge amounts of liquor. Hardly an effective Prohibition tract, since his stories of drunken adventure in his youth (and he started drinking when he was *very* young) are more exciting than cautionary. Some of this volume also went into his autobiographic novel "Martin Eden".

Some stretches, like the last 25 pages, are now near unreadable - inflated prose, meandering about late 19th C Materialist/Pessimist philosophy, edg...more
Raegan Butcher
May 02, 2008 Raegan Butcher rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: drunks and punks and dirty skunks
If this book doesn't make you want to lift a pint or two and get loose, are a stronger human than I. This one always makes me thirsty...even though it is supposed to show the deleterious effects of alcohol.
At school, we get The Call of the Wild and similar "Law of the Jungle" Jack London novels shoved at us, required reading.I read Martin Eden after high school and heard London speaking directly to me with his strong prose and fascinating story of a character with his feet in two worlds.Now I am catching up with London's lesser known (at least to us nonacademic readers)works.John Barleycorn: Alcoholic Memoirs is an amazing entry in the addiction/alcoholism memoir genre.London maintains he definite...more
There is something else happening here. This is more than just a treatise on alcohol (at least the best bits are). Jack London’s White Logic is right. As I interpret it what the Logic states is that all we are is a biological fabric made from the atoms of the universe. Nothing more. Even our consciousness is part of an organic process. From dust we come and shall return. Consciousness is not a ticket to heaven or hell. Any thoughts about being greater than this are delusion. Being sober doesn’t...more
James Govednik
(I downloaded this book free, online, from the Gutenberg Project)

I'm not sure Jack London is the author best fit to describe the perils of alcohol! This book, intended in part to promote prohibition, is so filled with London's classic adventuresome storytelling that the world of drinking looks mighty appealing.

I'd be interested to know how much of this is factual, and how much might fall into the category of fictionalized memoir. London's noble account of voting in favor of women's suffrage (he...more
A throat-burning, adventurous tale of boozing all across this globe. Written with all the contradictory passion of the most brilliant drunkards.

London opens this book by explaining it as a cautionary tale. In fact, he opens it by telling of a recent afternoon when he voted for women's suffrage in the state of California. For London supposes if the women have the vote they will outlaw drinking at last. He cast his vote while "jingled", what some of us now call "buzzed". London, who insists his na...more
Colin N.
Quite a strange book, this one. Part biography, part anti-drinking screed, it traces London’s history with drinking. From his first drink as a child, through his teenage years, through his life as a sailor, adventurer, and successful writer.

London was a fascinating character. Throughout this book you keep hoping he will spend more time describing his adventures, and less time pontificating repetitiously about the problems of alcoholism. But I guess he mines those areas in other works and so foc...more
Sam Quixote
The modern myth of the alcoholic or drug addict artist has only been with us a short while. Lord Byron the debauched poet drinking and fucking his way through his short life, Coleridge getting more and more addicted to drugs, eventually losing his talent, family, health and mind. From then we have the drink addled death of Poe, to the Victorian writers who would use opium like Wilkie Collins and who would create characters who openly used cocaine and opium like Sherlock Holmes. And then we come...more
JOHN BARLEYCORN. (1913). Jack London. ***.
I’m not sure why London felt compelled to write this book, justifying his drinking and its association with an enhanced experience of life. He is constantly maintaining that his drinking is not a subject of addiction – i.e., he is not an alcoholic. After one of his bouts and concurrent adventures, he says, “...still there arose in me no desire for alcohol, no chemical demand. In years and years of heavy drinking, drinking did not beget the desire. Drink...more

It was a great notion of London's to tell the alcoholic angle of his own story, as far as I know the first writer to do it, and he really makes it work. It shows a level of self-awareness otherwise unknown at that time, and, as always, the author's great pleasure in adventure.

It's telling that London gets only so outraged about alcoholic abuse as to say he wishes women would vote saloons out of existence--a position I'm pretty sure he didn't seriously hold. Indeed he conspicuously fails to cond...more
Ho iniziato a leggere "John Barleycorn" appena finito "La strada", come ideale proseguimento della biografia di Jack London.

Prima sbronza a 5 anni, ha vissuto come un Hobo (vagabondo per scelta) saltando di treno in treno ed elemosinando cibo, marinaio, scrittore di successo. lavoratore sfruttato e sottopagato, "pirata ostricaro", corrispondente di guerra.
Che vita quell'uomo!

Leggere John Barleycorn è un po' come leggere Martin Eden.
Se si è affascinati da London non si può non leggere questo libr...more
This is London's Prohibitionist tract. His main thesis is that the reason he has been drinking so much all his life is that alcohol was so readily available in society. He tells some enlightening stories of his career, his youth and early exploits, and growth into maturity that are really fascinating. Unfortunately, he basically blames his alcoholism on everyone else - he says it is the only way for men to socialize. Well, he never tried NOT drinking or drinking less than everyone else. Plus, he...more
Силна книга.
Нямах никаква представа за живота на Джек Лондон, знаех само че е бил алкохолик.
Но това е доста кратко обобщение, на една много интересна личност.Какво да се прави - историята помни пороците и грешките по-добре от всичко.
Определено от мемоара му добиваме ясна представа за всички фактори които са го подтикнали към алкохола, много интересно са описани дори и най-малките и дребните факти и преживявания.
Даже след прочитането си мисля, че книгата би имала много голям успех и днес, тъй кат...more
John Barleycorn (known unofficially as the “alcoholic memoirs”) is Jack London’s recounting his own experiences with alcohol as well as an attempt to illustrate the dangers of drinking and the need for prohibition. Ostensibly, he voted for women’s suffrage in hopes that women, gaining the vote, would lend their political support to outlawing booze completely. This book is London’s way of explaining that vote.

As much as this is supposed to be a serious treatment (according to Pete Hamill’s introd...more
Sergei Barsamian
Dec 28, 2010 Sergei Barsamian rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: all people who use alcohol and think they are not beginner drunkards
Another autobiographical book by London (along with Martin Eden), concentraed this time on booze-side of London's stormy life. It's a brilliantly written tale of a perpetual "friendship" of socially approved, good-loking but dead-inside John Barleycorn (a personification of alcohol) with people of all social classes and levels - from beer-drinking preschool country boys and teen workers to wine/cocktail-soaked Bohemian writers and landowners. This book comprehensively explains why drinking (univ...more
Basically London's autobiography (as a pirate, arctic sealer, hobo riding the rails, klondike gold miner, south seas explorer) told through all of the times that he got the most wasted. At times very entertaining, but then I also got frustrated with the fact that he never takes responsibility for his own actions. Throughout almost the entire novel he claims that he doesn't like to drink and hates the taste, but for some reason or other he is always being forced into drinking? Ha. Classic times,...more
This is partially wonderful, and partially good overview of some of Jack London's life, travails, drinking life, and philosophical ruminations. It's consistently engaging, vividly illustrating many of his escapades that appeared in fictional form in many other books, and when he gets philosophical, the book jumps off the page with some wonderfully offbeat thoughts about man and her place in the universe. Too scattered to be considered great, but I loved much of it and liked the rest.
Kniha o prítomnosti alkoholu v ľudskom živote a jeho tradičných sociálnych funkciách, zároveň apel na zavedenie prohibície v USA.

Jack London vysvetľuje ako sa dostal alkohol do jeho života a ako ho vnímal vždy v súvislosti so zaradením sa do kolektívu ktorého chcel byť súčasťou. Miestami som sa nemohla ubrániť pocitu, že presúva zodpovednosť za svoj alkoholizmus na spoločnosť ako ospravedlnenie pred sebou samým.

V knihe zaujímavým spôsobom opisuje ako nenápadne sa postupne alkohol stal súčasťou...more
Brian Leach
I liked most of the book but found myself waiting for the protagonist (the author) to "hit bottom." Perhaps he left some of these details out of this autobiographical work to protect his reputation for posterity.

In the story London regularly says that alcohol enhances life and the only negative he refers to is when he drinks more often...eventually before breakfast. Now I can imagine how awful it would be to daily wake up and slam a cocktail but London doesn't go into why this was so awful he ju...more
Kit Fox
Again, as a native Californian I am ashamed to admit that this is the very first Jack London book I've read. So very, very ashamed. And while he spends a good part of it declaring to one and all that he is in no way a dipso--despite the Herculean drinking bouts he often engaged in while still a teenager no less--it does all have a degree of "the lord doth protest too much, methinks." Then again, from a purely societal standpoint, it would've been downright unimaginable for a guy, least of all on...more
Great Book. I gave Five stars to these book not because it is so well written and so great work of literature Art (I don't say it is not but that is not very important), but because I found my self in it. It is a kind of autobiografic Book of famous writer and for me very Inspiring. I to have been as a young boy (15-19) social drinker and was experimenting with drinking so I know what was London talking(writing)about from my own experience.
It goes deep to the world of a drinking man and talk ab...more
Sarà che considero Martin Eden un fondamentale romanzo di formazione. Sarà che considero Jack London una delle voci più importanti del Novecento. Non so.
John Barleycorn è un urlo di rabbia. L'analisi lucida e penetrante dell'alcolismo da parte di un uomo distrutto dall'alcol, un alcolista. Il libro è una narrazione a cavallo tra La Coscienza di Zeno e un romanzo di avventura, tra una confessione e il flusso di coscienza, è un Martin Eden che non è mai riuscito ad uscire dal saloon. Un Martin Ede...more
Robert Beringer
He was a lush, but he hated the taste of alcohol! Great insight in the life of a functioning alchee, and crazy things he did that inspired his writing.
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Jack London was an American novelist, journalist, social-activist and short-story writer whose works deal romantically with elemental struggles for survival. At his peak, he was the highest paid and the most popular of all living writers. Because of early financial difficulties, he was largely self educated past grammar school.

London drew heavily on his life experiences in his writing. He spent ti...more
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The Call of the Wild White Fang The Call of the Wild/White Fang The Call of the Wild, White Fang and Other Stories The Sea Wolf

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“Oh!--and I speak out of later knowledge--Heaven forefend me from the most of the average run of male humans who are not good fellows, the ones cold of heart and cold of head who don't smoke, drink, or swear, or do much of anything else that is brase, and resentful, and stinging, because in their feeble fibres there has never been the stir and prod of life to well over its boundaries and be devilish and daring. One doesn't meet these in saloons, nor rallying to lost causes, nor flaming on the adventure-paths, nor loving as God's own mad lovers. They are too busy keeping their feet dry, conserving their heart-beats, and making unlovely life-successes of their spirit-mediocrity.” 16 likes
“The fortunate man is the one who cannot take more than a couple of drinks without becoming intoxicated. The unfortunate wight is the one who can take many glasses without betraying a sign; who must take numerous glasses in order to get the ‘kick’.” 10 likes
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