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Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine [Hardcover]

Stephen Braun
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 31, 1996 0195092899 978-0195092899 1
Alcohol and caffeine are deeply woven into the fabric of life for most of the world's population, as close and as comfortable as a cup of coffee or a can of beer. Yet for most people they remain as mysterious and unpredictable as the spirits they were once thought to be. Now, in Buzz, Stephen Braun takes us on a myth-shattering tour of these two popular substances, one that blends fascinating science with colorful lore, and that includes cameo appearances by Shakespeare and Balzac, Buddhist monks and Arabian goat herders, even Mikhail Gorbachev and David Letterman (who once quipped, "If it weren't for the coffee, I'd have no identifiable personality whatsoever").
Much of what Braun reveals directly contradicts conventional wisdom about alcohol and caffeine. Braun shows, for instance, that alcohol is not simply a depressant as popularly believed, but is instead "a pharmacy in a bottle"--mimicking the action of drugs such as cocaine, amphetamine, valium, and opium. At low doses, it increases electrical activity in the same brain systems affected by stimulants, influences the same circuits targeted by valium, and causes the release of morphine-like compounds known as endorphins--all at the same time. This explains why alcohol can produce a range of reactions, from boisterous euphoria to dark, brooding hopelessness. Braun also shatters the myth that alcohol kills brain cells, reveals why wood alcohol or methanol causes blindness, and explains the biological reason behind the one-drink-per-hour sobriety rule (that's how long it takes the liver, working full tilt, to disable the 200 quintillion ethanol molecules found in a typical drink). The author then turns to caffeine and shows it to be no less remarkable. We discover that more than 100 plant species produce caffeine molecules in their seeds, leaves, or bark, a truly amazing distribution throughout nature (nicotine, in comparison, is found only in tobacco; opium only in the poppy). It's not surprising then that caffeine is far and away the most widely used mind altering substance on the planet, found in tea, coffee, cocoa, chocolate, soft drinks, and more than 2,000 non-prescription drugs. (Tea is the most popular drink on earth, with coffee a close second.) Braun also explores the role of caffeine in creativity: Johann Sebastian Bach, for one, loved coffee so much he wrote a Coffee Cantata (as Braun notes, no music captures the caffeinated experience better than one of Bachs frenetic fugues), Balzac would work for 12 hours non-stop, drinking coffee all the while, and Kant, Rousseau, and Voltaire all loved coffee. And throughout the book, Braun takes us on many engaging factual sidetrips--we learn, for instance, that Theodore Roosevelt coined the phrase "Good to the last drop" used by Maxwell House ever since; that distances between Tibetan villages are sometimes reckoned by the number of cups of tea needed to sustain a person (three cups being roughly 8 kilometers); and that John Pemberton's original recipe for Coca-Cola included not only kola extract, but also cocaine.
Whether you are a sophisticated consumer of cabernet sauvignon and Kenya AA or just someone who needs a cup of joe in the morning and a cold one after work, you will find Buzz to be an eye-opening, informative, and often amusing look at two substances at once utterly familiar and deeply mysterious.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Whether they prefer scotch on the rocks or a double mocha latte, readers will enjoy Braun's dissection of caffeine, alcohol and the processes by which they work. For one thing, the presentation of complicated scientific concepts is understandable without being condescending. Braun makes analogies ("Drinking caffeine is thus like putting a block of wood under one of the brain's primary brake pedals") that help the reader to visualize what's going on. The book is also helped by the author's inclusion of stories and humorous moments. From David Letterman quotes ("If it weren't for the caffeine, I'd have no identifiable personality whatsoever") to personal anecdotes about the effects these two mood-altering substances had upon the formulation of his book, Braun manages to take abstract concepts and mold them into something highly readable. Science novices should find this book as enjoyable and well-written as those who have spent their lives working with biology or chemistry.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Now a producer at the New England Research Institutes, science writer Braun engagingly describes the chemistry, metabolism, physiological and behavioral effects, and reputed health benefits of the world's two most popular drugs: alcohol and caffeine. He seasons the book with references to history, folklore, and literature. (Did you know that Bach wrote a Coffee Cantata?) The treatment of controversial issues?such as the correlation between risk of heart disease and moderate wine consumption?is balanced, and the science is sound. Whether the subject is the cause of hangovers or the effects of caffeine consumption on PMS, Braun has a knack for interpreting the findings of medical researchers and applying them to daily life. He also includes a postscript on the two years he spent researching the book and how it moderated his own alcohol and caffeine consumption. Recommended for academic and public libraries.?Eris Weaver, Marin Inst. for the Prevention of Alcohol & Other Drug Problems, San Rafael, Cal.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 214 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 31, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195092899
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195092899
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 5.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #864,218 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and informative (and a fast read) March 22, 2003
By drongo
Science journalist Stephen Braun explores the science and lore of alcohol and caffeine in this slim but informative little volume. Recent progress in understanding brain chemistry has given scientists a different perspective on the workings of these two of mankind's oldest chemical friends.
Alcohol is a small molecule which is soluble in both fat and water and consequently its physiological effects are manifold. Rather than the simple depressant it was once presumed to be, it is in fact a "pharmacy in a bottle" which can mimic cocaine, amphetamines, opium and valium. Given that the brain contains 40 or so neurotransmitters, it is fair to say that the full effects of alcohol are still far from being understood; broadly, however, it can reduce anxiety and stimulate the reward centres of the brain. Its effects on sexual desire and sleep are contradictory. It raises desire, yet in large quantities impedes performance. The stimulating effect is in part psychological: research volunteers who believed they had consumed alcohol but hadn't, became more aroused than those who had but thought they hadn't. It promotes sleepiness, yet worsens the quality of sleep and interferes with the sleep cycle. The effects vary with gender. In one survey 68% of women, but only 45% of men, replied that alcohol enhances sex. The oft-observed fact of women becoming intoxicated faster then men on a given dose is apparently due not to differences in blood volume (otherwise why would small men not also become drunk faster?) but rather to a difference in the effectiveness of alcohol dehydrogenase (an enzyme which can exist in 17 different varieties in the same person), a difference which fades with age.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A full-bodied history February 6, 1997
By A Customer
Caffeine and alcohol are two of the most popular drugs on earth, and yet until recently not a whole lot has been found out about how they affect us. Stephen Braun's "Buzz" compiles the latest research on them, and examines the truth of various myths that have grown up around them. Braun looks at each drug separately and records his findings with a clarity of prose that will delight the general reader. His book goes down like a smooth cup of Joe, or a sip of Kentucky bourbon. -- Bill Pesche
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent September 18, 2008
"Buzz" blasts a lot of long-held myths about two of our favorite drugs. The history - and the resulting culture around them - of booze and the most common pick-me-upper is engrossing and madly entertaining. I wish, really, there had been a little more of that. But the book tilts ultimately (somewhat gently, thankfully) into the relatively deep biochemistry behind our reactions to and devotions to caffeine and alcohol, too. A lot, but not quite all, of that is cast in beautiful lay context that really connects the science to the personal.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Chuck G
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book breaks down the biological and chemical reactions that allow caffeine and alcohol to affect us. It explains everything in a very detailed manner (describing molecule shape affects it's role in the body, how alcohol's depressant affects work a similar mechanism to valiums, etc), and then goes a step further to give a simple break down of the explanation. It is really fascinating how complex the human body and it's interaction with these substances are.

Overall, this book is for the type of person with an interest in the science behind these substances, but doesn't have the time/patience to read oodles of medical texts.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read May 30, 2013
By --
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
If you drink coffee, tea, wine, or anything else with Coffee or Alcohol in it, this book is a must read.

The author doesn't take a stance for or against either drug. He simply explains the mechanism of action and role in society of each substance.

For the most part the science portion was fun; most non-nerds like myself can understand it.

Some things are "debunked", like caffeine not helping sober someone up. In fact, the science is more complicated than simple rules like "caffeine doesn't sober you up". Exact dosage of each drug and specific activity being performed matters.

I wish I would have read this years ago.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful book. March 2, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is enlightening on what's actually happening when you drink coffee or alcohol. I didn't lose interest despite the chemistry. I wish that more information would have been given more scientific methods of controlling one's intake of these substances.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun read.
Fun read. I agree with some of the other comments that the author gets a little too technical at times, but the book is so well written and so fascinating that I easily slowed down... Read more
Published 7 months ago by artiste
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Facts but Kind of Dull
This book is good in that it explains the science of both substances in a way a layperson can understand but it just isn't that interesting if you've read other books on the... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Ruth
4.0 out of 5 stars Decent read with some interesting facts.
This is a good introduction to how these two chemicals work in your body and I learned a few new tricks as well. Written simply enough for most non-biochemists to get the idea. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Thomas Lhamon
5.0 out of 5 stars biochemistry as entertaining reading
I am a coffee drinker, and I like to be as informed as possible about the things I put into my body and how they affect me. Read more
Published 18 months ago by D. T. Kleven
2.0 out of 5 stars trujake
A bore of a book for me. I did finish it though. Broke things down to the beginning particles which I didn't care to have a chemistry lesson. Read more
Published on April 24, 2012 by Erika
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but is it current?
Very interesting stuff, if a bit dry in some points. However, seeing as the book is from the 90s, I must wonder if the information is as up-to-date as I'd like. Read more
Published on April 18, 2012 by Kyle C. Walton
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