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"It is not generally appreciated how extreme American attitudes about alcohol appear from the other side of the Atlantic."
With an opening line such as that, it's not surprising that Drink: A Social History of America engages in its share of Yankee-bashing. British journalist Andrew Barr's look at American culture through a glass (somewhat blearily) is an attempt "to understand the history of the United States through its attitudes to liquor and its changing tastes in drink." In reality, however, Barr lurches and staggers from topic to topic--from prohibition to martinis to ice to air conditioning to bland American beer in one 10-page sample--in this swirling cocktail party of a book. That's not to say that Barr's book isn't enjoyable--in fact, it's often delightful. Barr serves up amusing stories (such as that of poor King Charles II of Navarre, immolated in an alcohol-soaked sheet), interesting factoids (the first grapevines in California were planted at the San Juan Capistrano mission in 1779), and strong opinions. Some of his opinions are funny, some are bound to raise hackles (that alcoholism is not a disease, but a "failure of personality," for example), while others are somewhat sensible but destined to be unpopular. Barr feels that Americans have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, so we should teach young people (and those who drink to excess) to drink sensibly, worry less about pregnant women having the occasional drink and more about prenatal care, and switch the focus from stricter drunk-driving laws to laws aimed at reducing dangers such as cell-phone use and road rage. Just when things get too serious, however, Barr is off again in another direction with another witty snippet. Unfortunately, like many partygoers, Barr tends to repeat himself--frequent footnotes direct the reader to "See Chapter 4," "See Chapter 4 again," or even "See Chapter 4 once more." Perfect for browsing or ingesting in small doses, too much Drink in one sitting may leave readers with a headache. --C.B. Delaney [via]