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The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition 1st Edition

16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195029901
ISBN-10: 0195029909
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Editorial Reviews


"Rorabaugh has written a well thought out and intriguing social history of America's great alcoholic binge that occurred between 1790 and 1830, what he terms 'a key formative period' in our history....A pioneering work that illuminates a part of our heritage that can no longer be neglected in future studies of America's social fabric."--Journal of Psychohistory

"A bold and frequently illuminating attempt to investigate the relationship of a single social custom to the central features of our historical experience....A book which always asks interesting questions and provides many provocative answers."--Reviews in American History

"Great! The dual emphasis on common lifestyles and on reform, on qualitative and quantitative methods make it ideal for undergraduates."--Dan Woods, Ferrum College

"Great! The dual emphasis on common lifestyles and on reform, on qualitative and quantitative methods make it ideal for undergrads."--Dan Woods, Ferrum College

"This accessible monograph is grounded in a useful combination of social psychology and social history, providing undergraduates with an excellent example of how to use theory and evidence to elucidate an important and much-neglected episode in American history."--Simon Cordery, Monmouth College

About the Author

W.J. Rorabaugh is at University of Washington.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 17, 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195029909
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195029901
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.7 x 5.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Gio on May 31, 2008
Format: Paperback
Given the drinking habits of Americans of all social classes in the 18th Century, as described by Prof. Rorabaugh, there's a good chance that some or many of the leaders who gathered in Philadelphia for various momentous decisions were "under the influence" a good part of every day. But then, so was everyone, man, woman, and child, with the probable exception of slaves. No stigma attached to the drinking of mild alcoholic beverages, such as the universal hard cider, although a few smart fellows - Ben Franklin and Ben Rush inter alia - had come to recognize some of the health issues of drinking hard liquors. There are amusing tales about the drinking habits of Chief Justice John Marshall. Before he took his seat on the Court, a tradition had been established of allowing an open bottle of fortified wine on each justice's desk on cold and rainy days. Supposedly Marshall, a life long heavy drinker, declared 'the USA is a large enough country that it must be raining somewhere every day' and thereafter allowed the bottles at all times.

Rorabaugh's writing style is a blend of down-home aw-shucks anecdote and solid scholarship, a combination that makes his book highly enjoyable but that somewhat distracts attention from the serious social history he is delivering. Changes in drinking habits, and in attitudes toward drinking, had a lot more to do with increasing hostility to certain immigrant populations - German and Irish - and with rapidly increasing class consciousness and economic inequality. Those are very significant threads in the social history of ante-bellum America, and Prof. Rorabaugh's account of the temperance movement can be seen as a synechdoche for the polarization of all American public life and politics.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By ewomack VINE VOICE on July 28, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The United States has long had a reputation for heavy drinking. Guzzling to the point of intoxication still reigns as a favorite pasttime for high school and college students, and even for some adults. Banning liquor on college campuses can lead to riots (a lesson learned the hard way even recently), and some people will jump through any impossible hoop to ensure their portion of the communal keg. Though alcohol still creates problems for the current generation, what were the attitudes of Americans towards it historically? Has drunkedness always been an issue in America? Not much literature existed on the subject in the 1970s, which the author noticed while researching nineteenth century temperance pamphlets. He then found that drinking weaves a deep and unpredictable path through United States history. But he found some unexpected things along the way. These findings led him to write "The Alcoholic Republic".

An eye-widening surprise opens the book: Americans actually drank more liquor between the years 1790 and 1820 than ever before or since. We actually drink half as much alcohol today as our post Revolutionary ancestors. A chart in the first chapter shows consumption peaking at over 5 gallons per capita in the early 1800s as contrasted with approximately 2 gallons in 1970. A sharp drop occurred in the 1840s and the rate hovered around 2 gallons going forward. Looking at data published by the National Institutes of Health after the book's 1979 publication shows that the rate peaked at only 2.7 gallons in the early 1980s and leveled off at 2.2 gallons in 2002. So the early nineteenth century rate of 5 gallons per capita still remains shocking even with current data. This leads to the inevitable question of why Americans used to drink so much.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 28, 1996
Format: Paperback
If you don't understand drinking, you don't understand
American history. Colonial Americans drank like fish ‹
average whiskey consumption one pint daily. In the early
1800s they went on a bigger binge, mostly on hard liquor and
drinking alone, rather than sociably like in the old days.
Rorabaugh says this explains how the temperance movement
came up just then, & it was the stress of industrialization &
frontier loneliness & inflated dreams for the new nation.
Readable & smart & has the good modern historical perspective
on ³alcoholism² but¹s still skeptical of heavy intoxicant use.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By mwreview on March 9, 2003
Format: Paperback
William Rorabaugh, an associate professor of History at the University of Washington, provides a very interesting study of alcoholic consumption in the United States from the 18th century through the mid 1800s. He looks at the issue from the supply side (expense and technology in the production of distilled beverages and the import of rum) and the demand side. There is some eye-opening information in this work. The annual per capita consumption of alcohol between 1800-1830 exceeded 5 gallons; nearly triple today's consumption (p. 8). The demand for alcohol (particularly whiskey) stemmed from such things as alleged medical and dietary benefits, social camaraderie, a way to cope with a rapidly changing society, and such particle reasons as the lack of alternatives (water and milk was unhealthy and other substitutes were comparatively expensive) and strong beverages were needed to overcome the bland, monotonous American diet. Rorabaugh also devotes much of this study to the medical and moral critics of alcohol, including temperance societies. One doctor in the 1740s favored moderation: "not more than one bottle of wine each evening" (p. 32). I believe there is a lot of over-generalization in this study, especially when disillusionment over the voting system and the burden of living up to the ideals of the independent man are used as reasons for drinking (although drinking probably came before such feelings). Still, the book is extremely well-researched, with source notes at the end and several appendixes on estimating consumption of alcohol, cross-national comparisons of consumption, and cook books. The text, excluding the appendixes, is 222 pages and includes illustrations.
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