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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Book Review: "Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization" by Edward Slingerland

Just by going back into the articles on this blog, it should be no secret to you that I'm a huge science and history geek. But I'm especially geeky about evolution and the cosmos. I've delved into so much Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and Richard Dawkins that it's ridiculous. Clearly, I'm also a wine geek, so when you combine those things together I'M IN!!!

I saw Drunk while browsing Barnes & Noble one day, trying not to lose my six year old and making sure the books my thirteen year old wanted were appropriate. I was like "Cool! A history of our drunk asses! SOLD!" but it was not like what I was expecting. Rather than accounts throughout history on our said drunken asses, this book asks the question:

How has evolution not eliminated our enjoyment of getting drunk? It's clearly harmful to your organs, leaves you with awful hangovers, and is a very common cause of death around the world, so you'd think those who refrained from booze for whatever reason would produce more offspring, and through evolution we'd have some reaction that would stop us from consuming ethanol. 

But this book goes through it all from the very beginning, and it goes deep into who we truly are as a species. How our primate lineage and instincts mixed with our worker-ant mentality and societies butt heads within our heads often, and because of this we need to shut down our prefrontal cortex to open up our creativity and inspirations.

Drinking and dancing together at the ancient ceremony or local pub builds trust and creates friendships. This has made the act of community drinking an important part of the human experience, and lead to the great ideas and progress we have made throughout history.

But the book also goes into a relatively new threat: the rise of ABV in wine (from 5% average to 12% average) and beer (we're seeing it get even bigger now with craft beer), the creation of distilled spirits (allowing you to get sloshed very quickly), and the ability to completely isolate ones self (drinking alone). Is this why evolution hasn't done anything about alcoholism yet? Is this drastic change to the alcohol we consume, the advancement of our technology, and social changes too new? And if we keep going in the direction we are, will evolution react?

At one point he wonders if there should be a different legal age for buying and consuming distilled spirits than wine and beer, and to me that completely makes sense. An earlier age for the lower ABV products of beer and wine would create a greater appreciation and respect for drinking, and there would be less abuse when the brain is developed enough for distilled spirits. For defending this, he uses the drinking cultures of southern Europe vs northern Europe.

Slingerland sticks up for the community pub and believes it's worth a hit to the liver to enjoy yourself, because if you can't enjoy yourself and your friends and be merry, then what do you have? But he takes a step back... well, many steps back and then moves closer and closer to a step back, to really analyze what's going on with us and our love of intoxication. He sees it through the eyes of both Spock and Kirk, and he's great at it.

I recommend this book to all the science, history, and wine geeks out there. It will reel you in and not let go until you're done.
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