Book review a short history of drunkenness, by mark forsyth stuff.co.nz red dresses for girls 7 16

REVIEW: rats tell us more about ourselves than we might wish to know. If you provide them with unlimited free booze, "for the first few days they go a bit crazy, but then most of them settle down to two drinks a day: one just before feeding (which the scientists refer to as the cocktail hour) and one just before bedtime (the nightcap)". The dominant male of the colony, the king rat, remains teetotal, though, while low-status males drink the most.

This entertaining study of drunkenness makes for a racy sprint through human history – history being, as mark forsyth wittily puts it, "the result of farmers working too hard". Food surpluses create priests, bureaucrats, writers and other useless parasites. They also create beer, which stores better than bread, is antibacterial, and doesn’t need baking.


The ancient egyptians embraced sex and drunkenness ardently. A depiction in the tomb of neferhotep shows a servant holding a vessel for the woman seated next to her to vomit into, after drinking too much. This was considered healthy and normal. Forsyth’s depiction of the festival of drunkenness in honour of the goddess hathor, in which everyone got plastered, fornicated and then fell asleep, sounds much like a saturday night out in cardiff, only with less rain. And more religious significance.

In fact, this is the heart of forsyth’s thesis: drunkenness hasn’t been pursued by mankind merely for pleasure or escapism, but also for authentic spiritual insight. He quotes william james: "sobriety diminishes, discriminates, and says no; drunkenness expands, unites, and says yes … The drunken consciousness is one bit of the mystic consciousness." it is this, often thought-provoking angle on the subject that makes forsyth’s account something more than just a jolly romp through the ages, with a focus on how often alcohol and religious feeling go together.

The bible is genially in favour of drinking. "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish," says proverbs, "and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more" jesus famously turned a whopping 120 gallons of water into wine. Fierce about other sins, he laughed off suggestions he was a "glutton and a drunkard" (luke 7:34). Wine, of course, is central to the mass/holy communion.

Islam is more confused on the subject than christianity, promising "rivers of wine" in heaven in exchange for abstaining now, although the koran also commends wine in the here and now, in surah 16:67. Perhaps this explains the habits of sultan murad IV (1623-40), who would wander the streets of istanbul utterly pifflicated, and murder anyone he caught drinking. In 2010, wikileaks claimed that some saudi royals today embrace a similarly two-tier approach, promoting public whippings while enjoying secret parties with free-flowing cocktails.

Shakespeare was a crashing snob, approving of wine but invariably depicting ale-drinkers as plebby and laughable. He actually set only one scene in an alehouse. Otherwise, he depicted taverns, ie wine bars.

Forsyth struggles to maintain his jaunty tone when evoking the horrors of the 18th-century gin craze, though, after which the high-minded teetotalism of the methodists and the victorians comes as a relief. But promoting teetotalism sometimes backfires.

In 1914, nicholas II outlawed vodka in russia. Thus "1914-17 are the only three years in russian history when the population has been sober enough to notice exactly what their government were doing to them", hence the revolution.