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Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol
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Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  430 Ratings  ·  52 Reviews
A spirited look at the history of alcohol, from the dawn of civilization to the modern day

Alcohol is a fundamental part of Western culture. We have been drinking as long as we have been human, and for better or worse, alcohol has shaped our civilization. Drink investigates the history of this Jekyll and Hyde of fluids, tracing mankind's love/hate relationship with alcohol
Paperback, 560 pages
Published May 5th 2009 by Avery (first published 2008)
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Community Reviews

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Mar 04, 2009 Rick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
As I was reading this book, I kept developing a prodigious thirst for both the text and the subject matter. Ah, alcohol! I cannot even try to read about your glories without falling prey to your allure!

Ahem, sorry... Anyway, this popular history covers the entire history of the drink of poets, madmen, working men and gods, but the keenest focus is on how cultures -- from the ancient Sumerians to modern-day Americans and all in between -- view the water of life. Each new type of alcohol is introd
Jun 11, 2011 Peter rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Very entertaining, fascinating details, impressive scope. The breadth of research here is amazing, from Europe to Asia to Australia, from Sumeria at the beginning of recorded history, through the age of the Pharaohs, up through Russia in the 1990s, and the rise of craft brewing in America in the 2000s.

Understandably, the second half of the book slows down a bit, as we reach time periods with more recorded history. I enjoyed reading about the Whiskey Rebellion in the early days of American indep
Kirk Battle
Apr 01, 2013 Kirk Battle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Easily one of my favorite books of all time. An endless source of trivia and handy facts for when you're out socializing and have nothing to add to the conversation. It's also written in a frank and forward style that had just enough wit to it without being cute.

It's essentially an object-oriented history, looking at the world from the perspective of alcohol as religious, economic, and social actor. It's why people grew crops, it's why they went to war, and it's why they put so much hops in the
Liz Barr
Dec 17, 2013 Liz Barr rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, food
It’s a sad reflection on the state of popular histories in general that I got really excited when Iain Gately’s Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol devoted an entire chapter to Australia and the Rum Rebellion. And then split a chapter between China and Japan. And, um, mentioned Africa.

Okay, what I’m saying is that if you’re setting out to write a history of [something] in a Euro-American context, you should say so upfront and not go around calling it something silly like “a global history”. Tha
This book has some really great historical tidbits in it, and the style is clear and very enjoyable to read.

My main criticism is that I can't help but think about all the things missing from this book. It attempts to look at drinking all over the world, but in practice anything outside of Western Europe and U.S. history (and the Greek and Roman classical eras that they claim lineage from) is pretty pathetically covered. A few-page dip here and there into Japan or Brazil as encountered by Western
Mar 20, 2009 Robert rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Read around in this book. It was research for work. Somewhat dry for such a fun subject.
Matt Simmons
Aug 02, 2013 Matt Simmons rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gately writes an engaging and intriguing history of one of the very few cultural (near-)universals: drink. While the book is perhaps over-long, it never feels plodding, yet its narrative is also not something that compels the reader to keep reading--one can taste and sample at will. Too much can be overwhelming, as Gately packs the information in this book tightly, and it feels like a glass overflowing at times. Perhaps subconsciously, his work began to take on the character of his subject matte ...more
"We should thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of them."
- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

A substance that a third of the world institutionalizes as a religious sacrament and another third expressly forbids on religious grounds is one to be reckoned with. Since time immemorial, humans have been getting themselves sloshed in one way or another, putting their ingenious minds to work creating alcoholic beverages from whatever plants were available. Drink is a sweeping history of the
Sep 21, 2015 Christopher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My wife saw this book on the shelves of a used bookstore and pointed it out to me. I'm a big fan of reading historical non-fiction, and a big fan of booze in all its myriad forms (I'm a cocktail author and a beer brewer ... and I'm not against a glass of wine on occasion either!), so this one definitely called to me.

Drink traces the evolution of alcohol--the drinks, our attitudes about it, our understanding of it--from the dawn of recorded history to very nearly the present day (it finishes up i
Jul 09, 2012 Barrett rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone with even a passing interest in alcohol, or history
absolutely fascinating. granted, at 500 pages, it's not a quick read -- but it is easy to read and chock full of historical tidbits. i think the only limitation is that the book isn't entirely global, beyond ancient times: there are passages on the Aztecs, or the rise of rum and eventually wine in Australia, and a bit about sake or the popularity of cognac in Japan and China... but mostly, we're talking the US, Britain, and France.

however, the chronology is thorough -- he starts with the dawn o
Jun 22, 2011 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was fun. Gately really covers just about everything I could think of for him to cover. The book is heavily weighted towards Europe and North America, but he does get in some talk of South and Central America, and East Asia, and little bit about Africa.
I never really thought about the importance of alcohol calorie-wise before, that was interesting. I thought people in New England back in the day drank a ton of hard cider because they liked booze. I feel dumb, in retrospect; obviously you con
Dec 26, 2015 Ken rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is one remarkably well-researched, well-written, and fascinating book. This is basically a history of the (mostly Western) world, told through the broad lens of alcohol. It's remarkable to realize how deeply rooted Western civilization is in alcohol. It's particularly interesting to see attitudes change over time: drink is good; no, it's bad. Wine is good but spirits are bad. Spirits are good, wine is bad. Beer is food, but spirits are "different"; wait, no, they are the same. Then prohibit ...more
May 08, 2011 Amanda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Easy book to read a little bit at a time and then put down for a while. I almost feel like there is too much information. Gately tries to cover absolutely everything about alcohol, although he can admittedly be a bit Euro-centric, I think I would have appreciated it more were it a bit more focused and jumped around less. I think he could have been a bit more concise and to the point... what was the point anyway? Drinking has a very long history.

"Religious enthusiasm toward brewing resulted in p
Oct 10, 2016 Raymond rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Informative, witty and never boring, this is a good starting point for getting into the history of alcoholic drinks. It covers the history of their manufacture from the Sumerians all the way to the craft beer revolution in the 90s, and as the title indicates there's an emphasis on the changing place of alcohol in society and cultural attitudes towards it. Be warned however that this is not a global or general history of alcohol, but mainly a history of alcohol in the Western world, with occasion ...more
Sep 12, 2012 Declan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great peice of social history , and fascinating to read of the central part alcohol has played in human history. Also an excellent grabbag of "QI" type facts for aspiring pub bores. Useful as well in placing modern moral panics about alcohol in context: at the same time, i feel the pro-alcohol evangelising in thr closing chapters to be a bit much, the fact that small ampunts of red wine can be good for older peoples cardio health, needs to be weighed against the awesome damage done to people's s ...more
rachael gibson
Jun 18, 2012 rachael gibson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating romp through the popular history of booze, from Vikings to Victorians and beyond.

There were a few sections that I wish Gately had gone into more detail on, but I suspect that's more down to my personal interest in certain eras rather than any failing on his part. He kept every section lively and interesting and the book was genuinely laugh-out-loud in parts. Also packed full of (honestly!) fascinating facts which I bored my colleagues/friends/family with at length - and bookmarked,
Apr 03, 2011 Sesana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nonfiction
The entire history of alcohol in 500 pages? It's very thin in spots, of course, but that's because it's just trying to fit in way too much. An enjoyable read, but I probably would have liked it even more if I hadn't already read full-length books on whiskey, rum, gin, wine and absinthe already. I certainly read a lot of books on booze for somebody who doesn't drink. You're really much further ahead to simply read a book just about a specific type of alcohol, or one with a much narrower focus tha ...more
I picked this book up mostly interested in seeing what they had to say about the history of mead. But I was reading the ebook version (with no useful index) and was frustrated I couldn't jump to the sections I wanted. (Chapter 5, "Barbarians" is what I was looking for, thanks to a quick Google Books search of the text). I started reading cover to cover but got bored by the parts that weren't relevant to my current interests and started and stopped reading several times. So to be fair, my review ...more
Scott Rhymer
Well-written and engaging, Drink takes us through the use and misuse of alcohol throughout history. There are some good insights into the folkways surrounding the use of alcolhol, such as the assumption in Japan that business deals made while drunk assure that the real intentions of the people involved in the deal will out; or that in England (and much of feudal Europe), one's libation was linked to class. It's worth a read.
Apr 28, 2011 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A very interesting book. Because it covers the entire history of alcohol, it skips around, which sometimes makes it read like a collection of anecdotes. A little long, but it was worth getting through the slow parts to find the good parts, since there are some fascinating and hilarious stories included.
Aug 11, 2009 Jake rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such a thorough and absorbing look at the history of alcohol and its place in human culture since it was first discovered. Gately does a remarkable job of researching his subject and weaving a story out of his staggering amount of information.

If anything, it makes you want to grab a pint or a cocktail or even a glass of Pinot Noir. Well done, I would recommend this book to anyone.
Austin Amonette
Feb 05, 2010 Austin Amonette rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Frequently in the last half of the book, the author writes more about patterns of social alcohol consumption than alcohol itself, material which is not as engaging as the details about the alcoholic drinks themselves. However, the chapter about the American 1920s, with its speakeasies serving bathtub gin, was almost as much fun as the decade itself must have been.
Rachel Scollon
Jan 25, 2010 Rachel Scollon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Highly entertaining and informative. Slightly careless, but you can usually tell where the possible inaccuracies lie, and the sort of insouciant attitude that produces statements like that the USSR's "leaders started to lurch toward capitalism, intending to embrace it" is apt to put one in a forgiving mood.
Jun 10, 2010 Alyssa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bring up things I've learned in this book all the time. It's incredibly interesting. I feel better about alcohol now that I understand it. I feel that I have a better grasp on what "healthy" consumption of alcohol means, now that I've read this review of how consumption has varied over time and between cultures. I highly recommend this to anyone- whether or not you're a drinker.
Kevin Kosar
Jun 02, 2011 Kevin Kosar rated it really liked it
An often funny and very useful book to a booze writer like myself. It's a bit unwieldy---Gateley chucks in everything but the kitchen sink. I reviewed the book for The American at
Nov 06, 2008 Dru rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-20-pages
The first twenty pages lay out the history of booze from prehistoric cultures to the Ancient Egyptians, and, then, the Greeks. It's mostly about wine so far, though there was a little beer in there. They still haven't discovered Wild Turkey yet. While highly readable, I'm not sure this book could hold my interest all the way to the Yager years.
Apr 06, 2009 Mandy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this book is full of TONS of strange information... which I LOVE. :) Still reading...

Okay I finished it and it was amazing to the end. I loved all of the tidbits of information and stories, backgrounds, and connections to literature and film... beautiful, really.
Chelsea Olson
Gately veers off topic frequently and is a fairly inefficient writer. The subject material is fascinating and despite my perceived shortcomings of his work, I am reading his follow up, Drink: A Social History of America.
Nov 14, 2014 MT rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Top notch, reading about booze in the times when I can't drink booze. The best part about it is I can now half-remember all sorts of fun facts about alcohol, which will make me the delight and wit at any number of fancy soirees.
Jun 12, 2012 Benjamin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
An interesting look into the history of alcohol and its affects on the development of civilization. Some of the information is inaccurate, to wit the conflicting information on the origin of the term "The Real McCoy".
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“Eagerness in drinking is a practice injurious to the partaker. Do not haste to mischief, my friend. Your drink is not being taken from you. It is given you, and waits you.” 0 likes
“Their compliments were almost universal, their warnings few, if dire. Wine was a force for good, a substance that enabled people to relax while simultaneously elevating their minds, inspiring drinkers to “laughter and wisdom and prudence and learning.” 0 likes
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