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John Barleycorn: Alcoholic Memoirs

3.94  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,502 Ratings  ·  114 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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(showing 1-30 of 2,751)
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else fine
May 27, 2010 else fine rated it it was amazing
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
The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon)
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
Cynthia
Oct 19, 2009 Cynthia rated it really liked it
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
Rozzer
Jul 04, 2012 Rozzer rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed, own
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
Aric Cushing
Brilliant memoir about alcohol and the ramifications in the Victorian era (and beyond). Exceptional writing. No surprise London was the first superstar American writer celebrity. The ending is an amazing self reflection of life and what it means to be alive, for London. Hard to put down.
Reid
Apr 10, 2016 Reid rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a good book on the myriad joys of drinking. Although his goal here is a message of social prohibition and it helped usher in the 18th Amendment, the most vivid and memorable parts are when he's describing the pleasures of easy respect and camaraderie in the saloons. London was another hard drinking prolific author, like so many others - Hemingway, Steinbeck, Kerouac, Mailer - but this guy was the forerunner and led an incredible life beyond writing. And although this is a memoir, there's ...more
Marie-aimée
Apr 06, 2016 Marie-aimée rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Personne n'a jamais aussi bien expliqué l'alcoolisme que Jack London, même Zola. Ce récit presque autobiographique est une sorte de Mémoires d'un alcoolique. Toutes les facettes, les raisons et les conséquences de sa consommation sont développées, mais de façon éloquente sans être ennuyante. Pour lui, il y a deux types de buveurs : le plus commun, sans imagination, qui boit à l'excès et s'étale fréquemment par terre, et celui qui a de l'imagination et des visions, lorsqu'il est complètement soul ...more
Sam Quixote
Aug 06, 2011 Sam Quixote rated it really liked it
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
Brandy
Dec 03, 2011 Brandy rated it really liked it
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
John
Nov 19, 2011 John rated it it was amazing
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
Bill Clunie
Jun 03, 2015 Bill Clunie rated it it was amazing
I was still drinking heavily when I first read this book. Most books on alcoholism put me off, filled as they seemed to be with sanctimony and a conviction that we all wanted the same things in life: security, sanity, happiness. London's honesty, his embrace of the madness of drink, went down as refreshingly as chilled vodka. Returning from a whaling voyage, sober for months, committed to sobering up and getting serious writing done...but first of course the captain has to stand the men a drink ...more
Christopher Sutch
Mar 14, 2015 Christopher Sutch rated it really liked it
This autobiography is partly a reflection on the author's struggles with alcohol consumption and partly a pro-temperance manifesto. London sets the scene by explaining why he voted for women's suffrage in a state referendum: not that he believed that women were capable of voting or had an equal right to the vote, but because he knew that, in general, they would get the job of passing a prohibition amendment done. The best parts of the work are those that give us some direct information about Lon ...more
Steve
Jun 24, 2014 Steve rated it liked it
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
Andrea
Jan 01, 2016 Andrea rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, addiction
In no way did this book depict a glamorization of the hard-drinking lifestyle, rather an honest portrayal of grime and grit. Jack London's exploration into the depths of alcoholism is the most accurate representation of what life is like after being sucked in to the bottle. From the innocence of a child sneaking the first sip to coping with the uneasy life of an adventurous young man, this novel navigates the uncharted course of addiction. London's tale is a chilling reflection backward of a man ...more
Ammar Mnla Hasan
يختلط على قارئ "جون بارليكورن" ما الذي يحاول جاك لندن فعله؟ فمن جانب يسعى لقص سيرة حياته بقالب روائي واقعي مستخدماً منظور الشخص الأول، ومن جانب آخر يقدم قضية ضد إتاحة الكحول، وهو لا يكتفي بعرض قصة وترك الحكم للقارئ، إنما يختم الكتاب بمرافعة تصلح لقاعة محكمة، ويدافع عن حجته بشكل شديد المباشرة لدرجة مزعجة.

لو تجاهلنا غرض جاك لندن من الرواية المتمثل بدعم موقف ضد إتاحة المشروبات الكحولية وجعلها في متناول الجميع بسهولة، لو تجاهلنا ذلك وحكمنا على الرواية على أنها سيرة ذاتية من كاتب احترف الأدب الواقعي
...more
Colin
Jun 01, 2015 Colin rated it liked it
Limited audience book, for sure. Strangely enough, those who might be most inclined to read it may also find in much of its content points to argue with. Still, if you've made acquaintance with anybody who's got an affinity for the drink, or have that affinity yourself, this might not be a bad volume to consume. The book will at least teach about the varieties we comprise. And hey, Jack London is a darn good writer, so just enjoy the prose.
Throughout, however, you'll have to get over the man's m
...more
Raegan Butcher
May 02, 2008 Raegan Butcher rated it liked it
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, well...you are a stronger human than I. This one always makes me thirsty...even though it is supposed to show the deleterious effects of alcohol.
Heather Brush
Dec 02, 2015 Heather Brush rated it liked it
An interesting perspective on alcoholism. London lived a varied rough life and was introduced to drink as a very young child, forced out of fear to drink beer and wine, and grew into the social expectation of drinking. It wasn't until later that he actually felt the desire, the compulsion to be drunk. And drink with compulsion he did. Time and time again being sober, then not. Still, at the end of his explanation, he states he will be in control, be careful, be wary of John Barleycorn (alcohol) ...more
David Sachs
Apr 17, 2015 David Sachs rated it it was amazing
I am a huge Jack London fan, but I've had to differentiate between his long and short works.

London is a master, perhaps THE master of short stories. His novels are just not in the same class. Call of the Wild is alright, but its a dog's story. It could have been written as a short. The Sea Wolf has moments of brilliance, but also page after page of flaccid, overdone flowery prose. Its redeeming feature is that Wolf Larsen is one of THE great characters if modern lit. London's autobiographical n
...more
Scott
Mar 21, 2014 Scott rated it it was amazing
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
Lindsay
Sep 09, 2014 Lindsay rated it really liked it
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
Neil Mill
jack london is a my favorite writer in America with steinbeck..
Jonathan Terranova
Aug 27, 2015 Jonathan Terranova rated it it was amazing
Knocked for six
Bill FromPA
London’s story of his drinking life is fascinating for the tales of his experiences as an oyster pirate, seal hunter, low paid manual laborer, and successful self-educated author. He does protest a bit too many times that he dislikes the taste of beer and various spirits, and his habit of personifying alcohol as “John Barleycorn” becomes irritating.
I suspect this was written with an eye toward the marketplace and London included scenes and attitudes the public would expect in a “temperance memoi
...more
Mike
Jun 19, 2015 Mike rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-owned
One thing I can say after reading this book: Hemingway's got nothing on Jack!

This is no melancholy rumination on the dangers of alcohol. It's a rip-roaring autobiography in which booze plays an integral part. Although London claims to desire prohibition, he can't seem to help celebrating John Barleycorn for the entire first two-thirds of the book. We read as London describes getting drunk at ages five and seven. Then onto his days as a teenage oyster pirate, where he practically lives in tavern
...more
Cedric Rose
Feb 19, 2015 Cedric Rose rated it liked it
Started reading this at the Mercantile Library and the library copy started to fall apart, so finished it on project Gutenberg. It had been recommended as a glimpse into London's work ethic . . . it's also a great look at growing up in the bay area in the 1880s.

The whole struggle with booze thing gets a bit tedious, and I'm sure there are good lessons to be learned here by aspiring alcoholics or those who prefer not to become alcoholics.
James Govednik
Aug 28, 2011 James Govednik rated it liked it
(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
Matthew
May 07, 2010 Matthew rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Aug 06, 2011 Sam Quixote rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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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“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’.” 11 likes
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