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Alcohol and the Writer Paperback – January 1, 1990

2.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In researching alcoholism, Goodwin, head of the University of Kansas Medical Center psychiatry department and author of Is Alcoholism Hereditary? , discovered that a great many prominent 20th century American writers drank to excess71%, the highest rate of any group studied. A deft biographical sketch precedes analysis of the drinking patterns, circumstances, heredity and psychological elements presumably responsible for the addictions of, among others, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Steinbeck and Faulkner. The author describes the writers' behavior while drunk, and attitudes towards drinking that range from shame to fatalism. He also appraises the effects of alcohol on their health and artistic sensibilitiesfor example, the LSD-like, absinthe-induced hallucinations reflected in Poe's work. Writing, Goodwin theorizes in his enlightening, thoughtful study, calls for exhibitionism, an interest in people, fantasy, and self-confidence, all of which alcohol promotes even as it assuages the loneliness and concentration which the craft requires. However, he notes, the extent to which writing and alcohol are related remains debatable. First serial to West Coast Review of Books.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (January 1, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140126554
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140126556
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,801,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on December 29, 1998
Format: Paperback
Dr. Donald Goodwin's "Alcohol and the Writer" doesn't demonize alcohol as a possible fuel for creative fire. However, he doesn't make alcohol abuse or alcoholism romantic by romanticizing the writers he examines. Rather, he shows how alcohol may have indeed inspired such greats as Hemingway and Faulkner while simultaneously exposing how alcohol contributed to their self-destruction. Also fascinating is his criteria for alcoholism and his section on why writers--American writers in particular--abuse alcohol so often. His "loner theory" is illuminating. Overall the book punctures a small hole into research on creativity. Goodwin's style lacks psychobabble jargon and seems to be written for readers, not for psychiatrists, though they could find the book valuable as well.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ernest Hemingway, a confirmed alcoholic, once dubbed alcohol as the "Giant Killer" of American letters and this fantastic study authored by Donald W. Goodwin, M.D., plumbs the depths of this issue.

He provides "case studies" of 8 writers. The lives of Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Georges Simenon, Eugene O'Neill, Edgar Allen Poe, William Faulkner, and Malcolm Lowry are discussed and the difficulties that each men experienced with alcohol are recounted in clinical and often shuddering detail. Goodwin cites hard data where available and explores the relationship between the psychology of the creative artist and chemical dependency. This book also cites the plethora of journalism that has appeared throughout the 20th century by medical professionals and literary minds alike which have likewise sought to treat this issue with the unsparing honesty that it deserves.

This slim volume holds multitudes and is an invaluable resource for devotees of these individual writers, lovers of great literature, and for creative artists who are perhaps struggling with their own chemical dependency issues. It strips the romance away from the image of the hard drinking writer who swills down his bourbon whilst producing a series of masterpieces. Furthermore, it is written with great love and respect for the power of literature and an equal amount of respect for the essential difficulties of the creative act. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Goodwin's "Alcoholism: The Facts" is something of a classic - an accessible, short but thorough analysis of the problems caused by alcoholism, written by a doctor who definitely knows what he's talking about. I expected more from "Alcohol and the Writer" but then I shouldn't really feel surprised that it is so weak by comparison. It is the work of a good medic mistaking himself for a good literary critic simply because he likes books. It just isn't enough.
The points Goodwin makes about alcohol and writers are incredibly unoriginal and have been expressed far more eloquently and in much greater detail by writers themselves - see, for instance, Baudelaire's "Les Paradis Artificiels" or E. T. A. Hoffmann's "Kreisleriana," the latter having been written almost two centuries earlier. It doesn't take a genius to work out that "There are three opinions about whether alcohol provides inspiration for writers. One holds that it never does, another that it sometimes does and a third that it is essential." So, that's everything covered, really?
Goodwin gets taken in by all the old stereotypes about "tragic, lonely and doomed" alcoholic writers. It isn't enough to make the reader aware that you know this may be just an empty cliche. There can often be degrees of overlap but Goodiwn doesn't take advantage of his medical knowledge to come to any new conclusions about why the stereotypes could hold true. If you are just going to quote Horace and Nietzsche on intoxication without adding anything of your own, you might as well just write a bibliography and pass it on to someone who could write a better book on the same subject.
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