A "entertaining and enlightening" deep dive into the alcohol-soaked origins of civilization—and the evolutionary roots of humanity’s appetite for intoxication. (Daniel E. Lieberman, author of Exercised)
While plenty of entertaining books have been written about the history of alcohol and other intoxicants, none have offered a comprehensive, convincing answer to the basic question of why humans want to get high in the first place.
Drunk elegantly cuts through the tangle of urban legends and anecdotal impressions that surround our notions of intoxication to provide the first rigorous, scientifically-grounded explanation for our love of alcohol. Drawing on evidence from archaeology, history, cognitive neuroscience, psychopharmacology, social psychology, literature, and genetics, Slingerland shows that our taste for chemical intoxicants is not an evolutionary mistake, as we are so often told. In fact, intoxication helps solve a number of distinctively human challenges: enhancing creativity, alleviating stress, building trust, and pulling off the miracle of getting fiercely tribal primates to cooperate with strangers. Our desire to get drunk, along with the individual and social benefits provided by drunkenness, played a crucial role in sparking the rise of the first large-scale societies. We would not have civilization without intoxication.
From marauding Vikings and bacchanalian orgies to sex-starved fruit flies, blind cave fish, and problem-solving crows, Drunk is packed with fascinating case studies and engaging science, as well as practical takeaways for individuals and communities. The result is a captivating and long overdue investigation into humanity's oldest indulgence—one that explains not only why we want to get drunk, but also how it might actually be good for us to tie one on now and then.
“Drunk is a punchy and stimulating intellectual cocktail that takes a fresh look at one of our species’ most puzzling obsessions—our routine consumption of sublethal dosages of a psychoactive poison. Despite a deep erudition that effortlessly weaves together history, anthropology, genetics, and chemistry, Slingerland’s book feels like a chat with an old friend over a couple of pints. You’ll learn a lot, but you won’t notice, because you’ll be so entertained.”
―Joseph Henrich, author of The WEIRDest People in World and The Secret of Our Success.
“To understand why people drink is to tap into the very core of human experience. Professor Slingerland seamlessly weaves together observations from a dizzying array of disciplines across the sciences and humanities. In so doing, he provides provocative insights regarding why we prize drinking and offers practical suggestions about how we might drink responsibly and better integrate drinking and nondrinking members of society. Read the first few paragraphs and you will immediately realize that you are in for a truly engrossing and delightful read! Read further and you also realize that you’re gaining a cutting-edge understanding of both the pleasures and the hazards of drinking. Slingerland has deftly managed to educate, surprise, and entertain while distilling a complex alcohol literature to address just why we humans drink to the point of intoxication.”
―Michael Sayette, PhD, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, and Director of the Alcohol and Smoking Research Laboratory, University of Pittsburgh
Edward Slingerland is Distinguished University Scholar and Professor of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia, with adjunct appointments in Psychology and Philosophy, as well as Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture and Director of the Database of Religious History. Slingerland is the author of Trying Not to Try, which was named one of the best books of 2014 by The Guardian and Brain Pickings and was the subject of a piece by John Tierney in the New York Times. He has given talks on the science and power of spontaneity at a variety of venues across the world, including TEDx Maastricht and two Google campuses, and has done numerous interviews on TV, radio, blogs, and podcasts, including NPR, the BBC World Service and the CBC.