Book Review: Doctors and Distillers: The Remarkable Medicinal History of Beer, Wine, Spirits, and Cocktails

Camper English’s Doctors and Distillers can be construed as a history book. However, the problem with that designation is that it invokes imagery of starched-shirt history teachers hell-bent on the recitation of dates, names, endless quizzes, essays, and obscure characters on the peripherals of history. English does an excellent job diving deep into the symbiotic history between medicine and alcohol, but he skillfully avoids the dry, academic presentation of information with a light touch and informal accessibility usually absent in alcohol history books.

However, that’s not to say the subject itself isn’t worthy of serious examination. English’s survey starts with some of the earliest recorded civilizations and attempts at distillation: traveling through China, India, the region known as modern-day Iraq, and ancient Greece studying fermentation and its usage in medicine. From there, he visits landmark discoveries in epidemiology, chemistry, and medicine, and the role tonics played in each field of science and brings along recipes of relevance for the reader to “drink along” as they turn the page (in moderation, of course.)

It’s not comprehensive, and nor is it meant to be. Much to English’s credit, though, he leaves no important landmark event unchecked and presents a survey of the subject that is generous in detail while escaping the temptation of becoming too insider or elaborate and complex in its construction. There is plenty of heavy and heady stuff that never veers into dull territory: For all their victories and foibles (and there are many), he makes the scientists striving for innovation and solutions human again, rather than figures from time worthy of veneration. History becomes more than rote recitation of statistics and Doctors educates while entertaining: the primary aspiration of any scholar studying the past with humble passion and curiosity. Doctors and Distillers is a delightful read, one that was hard to put down over the course of a rainy weekend.

348 pages.


The post Book Review: Doctors and Distillers: The Remarkable Medicinal History of Beer, Wine, Spirits, and Cocktails appeared first on Drinkhacker: The Insider’s Guide to Good Drinking.

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