The books books on the history of booze

Who am I?

I’m a professor at Northland College (WI) and an American environmental historian with specialties in wine, food, and horticulture. I mostly write on alcohol, garden history, botany, and orchids. The history of alcohol is wild, fraught, and charged with power—I’ll never tire of learning about it.

I wrote...

Empire of Vines: Wine Culture in America

By Erica Hannickel,

Book cover of Empire of Vines: Wine Culture in America

What is my book about?

The lush, sun-drenched vineyards of California evoke a romantic, agrarian image of winemaking, though in reality, the industry reflects American agribusiness at its most successful. Nonetheless, this fantasy is deeply rooted in the history of grape cultivation in America. Empire of Vines traces the development of wine culture as grape growing expanded from New York to the Midwest before gaining ascendancy in California--a progression that illustrates viticulture's centrality to the nineteenth-century American projects of national expansion and the formation of a national culture.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition

Why did I love this book?

Rorabaugh argues convincingly that alcohol of several types—but mostly rum and whisky—were part and parcel of, and at times even drove, early national American culture. Solo and group binges increased from 1790 to 1820 as the population tried to adapt to anxious and uncertain changes in their lives. Drinking became aligned with liberty—taverns were the “seedbeds of the revolution” and the “nurseries of freedom.” And although boozing came to be an early element in what was defined as the American character, the temperance movement was not far off.

By William J. Rorabaugh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Alcoholic Republic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Recreating America's first fifty intemperate years, when, from 1790 to 1840, Americans drank more alcoholic beverages per capita than at any other time in history, Rorabaugh examines some of the reasons why Americans drank so much

Book cover of Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History

Why did I love this book?

Sweetness and Power is a classic in world foodways, and still holds up against any book for its depth and complexity as a work of fascinating social history, anthropology, and commodity history. Although its main subject is the global trade and symbolism of sugar, I include it here because sugar makes molasses and molasses makes rum, and all three items were part of the original “triangular trade” connecting early colonial power networks of North America, Europe, and Africa. Mintz is particularly good at analyzing early images of sugar in their cultural contexts. (If you haven’t seen the elaborate “sugarwork” on cakes and pastries in the eighteenth century, you’re missing out.) The book easily conveys its content, as well as quietly invites its readers to perform good lay history and anthropology themselves.

By Sidney W. Mintz,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Sweetness and Power as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A fascinating persuasive history of how sugar has shaped the world, from European colonies to our modern diets

In this eye-opening study, Sidney Mintz shows how Europeans and Americans transformed sugar from a rare foreign luxury to a commonplace necessity of modern life, and how it changed the history of capitalism and industry. He discusses the production and consumption of sugar, and reveals how closely interwoven are sugar's origins as a "slave" crop grown in Europe's tropical colonies with is use first as an extravagant luxury for the aristocracy, then as a staple of the diet of the new industrial…

Book cover of The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks

Why did I love this book?

Although it has a spirited title, this book is no joke--it is deeply informative, well-researched, and well-organized. It's also great fun. It is the perfect mix of science and culture and gustatory pleasure. I read it straight through, and slowly, but it's probably better read as a semi-reference book—it’s got great recipes and gardening tips too--which is why I'll keep it in between my gardening and cookbook shelves.

By Amy Stewart,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Drunken Botanist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This quirky guide explains the chemistry and botanical history of over 150 plants, trees, flowers and fruits, showing how they form the bases of our favourite cocktails. Amy Stewart offers gardeners growing tips and provides cocktail enthusiasts with 50 drink recipes, as well as a rounded knowledge of the processes and plants which go into popular concoctions.

Book cover of Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants

Why did I love this book?

A sensual cultural history mixed with economic history, specifically the rise of capitalism, Schivelbusch launches an interesting argument—that one particular substance, or taste, has often defined the zeitgeist of whole nations for definitive periods. This book is wide-ranging and general in its treatment of alcohol, as well as several other drinks and spices. There are excellent imaginative connections made, and the book invites thinkers to think deeply and broadly about the meaning of intoxicants in history and in their own lives.

By Wolfgang Schivelbusch,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Tastes of Paradise as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the extravagant use of pepper in the Middle Ages to the Protestant bourgeoisie's love of coffee to the reason why fashionable Europeans stopped sniffing tobacco and starting smoking it, Schivelbusch looks at how the appetite for pleasure transformed the social structure of the Old World. Illustrations.

Alcohol: A History

By Rod Phillips,

Book cover of Alcohol: A History

Why did I love this book?

Alcohol is a highly readable, and useful, text on the cultural and material history of alcohol from ancient times through the modern-day. Phillips uses an international and comparative frame here to good effect—something not usually done in histories of alcohol. I also greatly appreciated his focus on colonial, ethnic, and racial histories around alcohol, as well as its regulation in different societies. Phillips makes a compelling argument against the idea that most earlier societies turned to alcohol because the water wasn't safe to drink (some did, but the assumption is far too widespread, he argues).

By Rod Phillips,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Alcohol as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Whether as wine, beer, or spirits, alcohol has had a constant and often controversial role in social life. In his innovative book on the attitudes toward and consumption of alcohol, Rod Phillips surveys a 9,000-year cultural and economic history, uncovering the tensions between alcoholic drinks as healthy staples of daily diets and as objects of social, political, and religious anxiety. In the urban centers of Europe and America, where it was seen as healthier than untreated water, alcohol gained a foothold as the drink of choice, but it has been more regulated by governmental and religious authorities more than any…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in sugar, alcoholism, and drinking culture?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about sugar, alcoholism, and drinking culture.

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