Holiday 2021 The Bookshelf

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

According to the author, alcohol “helped individuals to survive & families flourish, cultures to endure & expand.” That should make YOU feel very important.

Over the history of civilization, one thing has always remained true: people really like to get drunk! Edward Slingerland’s new book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization takes readers back as far as 7000 BCE to learn why, both then and now, humans love to drink, and why that’s not always a bad thing.

Equal parts in-depth, historical research and quick-witted prose, Slingerland’s fascinating account of our obsession with alcohol is an insightful and entertaining read. Take, for instance, Slingerland’s revelation that Johnny Appleseed – who is depicted as a do-gooder intent on spreading the gift of wholesome apples to hungry settlers in American mythology – may have had a boozier goal in mind: bringing much-needed alcohol to the frontier. “Johnny’s apples, so desperately sought after by American homesteaders, were not meant to be eaten at the table, but rather used to make cider and ‘applejack’ liquor,” reveals Slingerland.

And while drinking too much alcohol is undoubtedly dangerous, Slingerland argues that understanding why evolution supports our drive to imbibe will “help to inform conversations where we have hitherto – in our scientific and anthropological ignorance – been flying blind.” For example, most species’ bodies can’t process alcohol at all, while humans can. But, nature also invented the hangover so humans would learn to moderate their intake. His analysis spans insights an average beer geek can use, while also raising more complicated observations such as the place for alcohol in the workplace or university.

For millennia, alcohol has taken on a sacred quality in most cultures. Slingerland explains, “As a sacred substance, alcohol is also often seen as possessing magical powers or conveying such powers to those who imbibe it.” At its core, Drunk reveals how alcohol is not just a psychoactive chemical, but also a symbol of cultural meaning that it has, in its own way, helped solve a number of human challenges throughout history by “enhancing creativity, alleviating stress, building trust and pulling off the miracle of getting fiercely tribal primates to cooperate with strangers.”

Much of Slingerland’s research takes a deep dive into the science that makes alcohol, what he calls “the undisputed king of intoxicants” and why it’s been such a central force in human civilization for thousands of years. He explains that alcohol enhances the release of dopamine and serotonin, the body’s feel-good chemicals. It also exaggerates activity of the brain’s GABAA receptors, making us feel exhilarated at the first sip yet more sedate as we continue to indulge. This research gets to the crux of why a moderate amount of alcohol can make us feel so dang good.

Whether you’re a history junkie, a science geek or just enjoy reading the work of someone who cares as much about beer as you do – Drunk is likely to revolutionize the way you think about booze.

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Draught Lines is a seasonal magazine dedicated to the craft beer experience.