I don’t know how I found this book, but somehow while freezing on the train platform in Tokyo on New Year’s morning, I located this little gem. I started to read it on my phone, as I stood huddled in a train car trying to not get elbowed by too many hungover locals on their way to see family. I’m told by a coworker that it’s a tradition in Japan. First you get hammered on New Year’s Eve and then travel to see your family the next day. If you’re young enough sometimes you’re still drunk and haven’t been to bed since last year.
I’m not that young and spry anymore. My hangover was killing me and reading in a moving train did not help. However, this book is worth battling the hangover, it’s funny and it’s honest. Also, there is a lot of vomiting, something my morning and the book had in common.
The book is conveniently divided into different cultures rather than chronologically. So, it’s easy to get immersed into each culture separately to really feel how they viewed drinking. It also makes a convincing argument about how drinking has encouraged the human race to grow and expand. According to the book nature wants us to be drunk and I’m ok with that. However, I would rather be Viking drunk than ancient Greek drunk.
I’m able to make that distinction thanks to the incredible attention to detail in the customs of how the different groups drank. Details like how the Roman’s insisting that guests drink the wine of their importance level. Today, this would translate to the host drinking a $500 bottle of wine and the least important person is stuck with boxed.
The book also breaks each culture down by, what did they drink and why. What occasions did they drink at and how did they proceed going about imbibing their drinks? There is a surprising amount of forced drinking going on in here. I’m not talking a sip of gross communion wine at church. I’m talking etiquette doesn’t let you say no, even though you’ve probably puked already forced drinking.
My favorite part was seeing the old languages and how their use has evolved, such as Shakespeare’s sack is now sherry and the Vikings once described heaven as “the burden of dwarves.”
The only downside I found in this book is it doesn’t cover Japan. So, I have to take my coworkers word on the drinking traditions here and hope that I don’t make any huge cultural missteps. Until next time, Cheers!