Spirits Of America

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u0022Thousands of years ago, before Christ or Buddha or Muhammad…before the Roman Empire rose or the Colossus of Rhodes fell,u0022 Eric Burns writes, u0022people in Asia Minor were drinking beer.u0022 So begins an account as entertaining as it is extensive, of alcohol’s journey through world-and, more important, American-history. In The Spirits of America, Burns relates that drinking was u0022the first national pastime,u0022 and shows how it shaped American politics and culture from the earliest colonial days. He details the transformation of alcohol from virtue to vice and back again, how it was thought of as both scourge and medicine. He tells us how u0022the great American thirstu0022 developed over the centuries, and how reform movements and laws (some of which, Burn s says, were u0022comic masterpieces of the legislator’s artu0022) sprang up to combat it. Burns brings back to life such vivid characters as Carrie Nation and other crusaders against drink. He informs us that, in the final analysis, Prohibition, the culmination of the reformers’ quest, had as much to do with politics and economics and geography as it did with spirituous beverage. Filled with the famous, the infamous, and the undeservedly anonymous, The Spirits of America is a masterpiece of the historian’s art. It will stand as a classic chronicle-witty, perceptive, and comprehensive-of how this country was created by and continues to be shaped by its everchanging relationship to the cocktail shaker and the keg.


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