Monday, June 11, 2007

"The Book of Absinthe: a Cultural History" by Phil Baker

Picked this up once before at the library and read the intro, but put it back because I had too many other things to read. So on Saturday I was sort of trapped at the library for an hour or so (the horror!) and sought it out.

Cultural histories are the way history should be taught. I've read a few -- John Hawkwood's bio, the Basque History of the World... This one had amusing interludes about why more writers tend to be drinkers (maybe because it's a job you can't exactly escape from, though I've found things like running through dance steps sometimes keep me awake at night, so maybe any job can stick in your brain and not let you go), the interesting timing of Absinthe being banned in France (just after the start of World War I, the invading teutonic bock-drinkers were going to overrun the deranged Absinthe drinkers), a bit about the american goth subculture.

But it did seem oddly organized at times. It didn't run linearly from the invention of absinthe to its banning and its current status, though it did end with a review of the current brands. I guess it started with the height of absinthe culture (if it could be called that) with Oscar Wilde and some dude named Dowson (Edmund?), then it went back to the invention of absinthe and forward to what it actually does as compared to other types of alcohol. I found it somewhat unbelievable that people would drink some of the things they did -- Gin and DDT? I shudder to think what sort of fetal alcohol syndrome that would cause.

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