Alcohol: The Ambiguous Molecule

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9780140266665: Alcohol: The Ambiguous Molecule

Alcohol can be an item of diet, a medicine, sometimes an element in religious ritual. It is a valued object for the connoisseur, a traded commodity and a symbol of national pride (wine for instance in France, whisky in Scotland). But at another level it is just a molecule. That molecule is an instrument both of pleasure and of destruction and hence the fundamental ambiguity. The range of social and medical problems associated with alcohol and the history of related treatment methods (including the temperance movement, prohibition, aa and a range of contemporary approaches) are considered here. Griffith Edwards identifies what can be learned from this experience and the accompanying science so as to set more rational and effective policies in the future. What will happen about alcohol is in part embedded in what society will do about dangerous, pleasure giving drugs in general.

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Review:

In every part of this great metropolis, whoever shall pass along the streets, will find wretchedness stretched upon the pavement, insensible and motionless.

No, this is not a scene after closing time in an English town today, although it could well be. It comes from a House of Lords debate on the social dangers of alcohol in 1743. Such historical map-drawing forms the robust skeleton of Alcohol: the Ambiguous Molecule, Griffith Edwards' superb and riveting survey.

Alcohol is a compelling subject for such a survey for at least two reasons: first, because there is a critical mass of historical and scientific material that remains inaccessible to the lay reader; second, because booze seems to be so naturalized in British culture that, whilst we make shake our heads at scenes of drunken football hooligans, we actually know very little about our chemical companion. What really impresses is how much Edwards fits into a compact volume. He gathers together the streams of alcohol running through our culture and our bodies and assesses their effects in elegant and clear prose. Along the way, he explores the meanings of alcohol reflected through our religious and lay rituals and the bawdy coupling of Britannia and beer, as well as investigating the alchemy of alcohol that allegedly turns us into our real selves "only more so". He also unpacks the chemistry of our metaphors of the social lubricator, the poison, and the hair of the dog. And for those in need of pub conversation, the vivid descriptions of the different effects of alcohol in different cultures will startle and disturb your fellow drinkers. Whether you are an abstainer, social drinker, or concerned about the effects of drinking on your health, your relationships, and your society, this is a measure of alcohol that can make you feel even clearer headed in the morning. --Christine Buttery

Review:

"An excellent overview of the social history and ramifications of alcohol. Highly recommended for high school, academic and public libraries."

"In the foreseeable future, no serious journalist, no biological scientist, and no professor of sociology should write an article or prepare a course on either alcohol or the problems it engenders without reading this book from cover to cover. It is also the first book that a physician should suggest to a curious or distressed patient trying to understand either alcohol or alcoholism."

"Alcohol" offers a fascinating and paradoxical look at alcohol consumption, abuse, dependence, treatment and policy. It provides a balanced historical review of alcohol issues presented in a well-written and accessible manner.--Scott Coffey, PH.D., Department of Psychiatry, State University of New York at Buffalo, Journal of Studies on Alcohol, July 2001

In the foreseeable future, no serious journalist, no biological scientist, and no professor of sociology should write an article or prepare a course on either alcohol or the problems it engenders without reading this book from cover to cover. It is also the first book that a physician should suggest to a curious or distressed patient trying to understand either alcohol or alcoholism.--George Vaillant, Brigham and Women's Hospital (Boston)

Edwards has provided an excellent overview of the social history and ramifications of alcohol. He thoroughly explores the historical, public, cultural, religious, and medical implications of the acceptance of alcohol in most societies--and exposes the myths and facts of alcohol use and abuse. Written for the student and general reader, the book gives an excellent overview of how alcohol is perceived worldwide. Highly recommended for high school, academic, and public libraries. "Library Journal"

Edwards has spoken and written about alcohol and other drugs for years, and this factual, thoughtful book is typical of his work. . . After a brief history of alcohol, he identifies several attempts to regulate alcohol production, distribution, and overuse. He discusses the development and effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous and similar organizations and treatments . . . All in all, he sheds rare clarifying light on a subject usually clouded by emotion. "Booklist"

"Alcohol" offers a fascinating and paradoxical look at alcohol consumption, abuse, dependence, treatment and policy. It provides a balanced historical review of alcohol issues presented in a well-written and accessible manner. Scott Coffey, PH.D., Department of Psychiatry, State University of New York at Buffalo, Journal of Studies on Alcohol, July 2001

In the foreseeable future, no serious journalist, no biological scientist, and no professor of sociology should write an article or prepare a course on either alcohol or the problems it engenders without reading this book from cover to cover. It is also the first book that a physician should suggest to a curious or distressed patient trying to understand either alcohol or alcoholism. George Vaillant, Brigham and Women's Hospital (Boston)

Griffith Edwards presents a detailed, accurate overview of the world's interest in and love of alcohol. Anyone with an interest in the area, from medical doctors to Alcoholics Anonymous, will find in this book important, useful information about alcohol, alcoholism, social drinking, and treatment protocols. "The DeLand Beacon""

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