- The Good: A solid justification for a drink at the local pub
- The Bad: Lacks critical analysis; highly repetitive
- The Literary: References to ancient Greece and China
Drawing on multiple fields of research, including archaeology, history, cognitive neuroscience, psychopharmacology, social psychology, literature, and genetics, Drunk explains not only why we like to get drunk, but also why it might be beneficial, and that historically speaking, it might not be an accident.
Slingerland claims that intoxication assists humans with the three C’s necessary for civilization: creative, communal, and cultural. In fact, one theory suggests that the transition from hunter/gatherer to localized agriculture is primarily because humans wanted to grow the ingredients for beer or wine. I’m not sure if alcohol was prioritized over food, but I do agree that drinking helps us to let our guard down and be more playful, which can certainly promote community bonding.
Alcohol turns off a certain region of the brain for a specific type of rational thinking, which is fully developed only in adulthood. The imagination for pretend play in which children so readily engage is difficult to access as adults. Alcohol can make it much easier, and it can be delivered in specific quantities and only lasts for a few hours, which Slingerland argues is an advantage over kava, marijuana, psychedelics, or non-drug alternatives like meditation, speaking in tongues, or holotropic breathing.
Despite some of the interesting ideas, many of which ring true for me, this book is a slog. The formula of starting each chapter with the hypothesis, supporting the several bullet points, and thoroughly summarizing by restating, literally rephrasing the same sentences, gets old fast. I very nearly quit the book multiple times because of this. Put on your skimming googles for this one.
Although the last chapter deals with the dark sides of alcohol, it feels tacked on. Consequences of alcoholism or the culture of binge drinking are serious problems and deserve more discussion. The culture of drinking in our modern age requires nuance and moderation, de-stigmatization of sobriety, and a lot more attention to the the science of ingesting potent poisons on a regular basis.