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Vessels of Rage, Engines of Power: The Secret History of Alcoholism

4.4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0963024220
ISBN-10: 0963024221
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Graham's central assertion is that alcoholism causes egomania, displayed in such behaviors as denial, lying, overachievement, ethical deterioration, false accusations, rejection of friends, grandiosity, aggressive sexual behavior, multiple marriages, unreasonable resentments, and superficial emotions. Based on their biographies and on alcoholism research, he then "diagnoses" alcoholism in historical figures ranging from Beethoven to Jeffrey Dahmer. Reversing the usual question--Why do so many authors have alcohol problems?--he argues that writing is a profession with particular appeal for self-centered alcoholics. (The same is true of acting.) Traitors, serial killers, business executives, and politicians draw similar attention; for Graham, Hitler's alcoholic father and Stalin, whom he labels "supreme alcoholic," are responsible for this century's most mind-boggling abuses of power. Certainly this is not an essential purchase, and Graham's methods are questionable, but his study will no doubt appeal to readers with a personal interest in--or experience with--alcoholism. Mary Carroll


"... you can't read this book without gaining a better understanding of alcoholism." -- Rosalie Block, Jackson County Pilot, Sept. 1, 1994

"Deserves ongoing attention as a fine collection of case studies illustrating the influence of alcoholism on society. -- Reviewer's Bookwatch, November, 1994

"Fascinating! Fascinating! A really interesting read." -- Dean Edell, M.D., The Dean Edell Show

"Fascinating. A scholarly yet easy to read look at alcoholism's influence on politics, the arts and global history." -- EAP Digest, July/August 1995

"His argument for the presence of alcoholism in the many historical figures... is convincing... [these include] Joseph Stalin, Alexander the Great, Henry Ford II, John Wayne Gacy and other serial killers... Easy to read. Whatever controversies it creates are much more to its advantage than its disadvantage." -- Eric W. Fine, M.D., American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, Vol 14, No 2, 1994

"I found the book a 'good read'. It would infuriate ardent opponents of the disease model of alcoholism, however. ... [It is] a 'breath of fresh air from outside the establishment.' -- John M. Stanhope, Drug and Alcohol Review, 15, 1996

"It is refreshing to read a book not written from the viewpoint of the victim, recovered abuser, or clinical professional. Graham's book prevails over other books about alcoholism because it portrays the symptoms, the behavior, and the results in the context of lives. In many cases it explains the horrors, in others, it intensifies it." -- Stephen Scalese, Allentown's Ergo Magazine, July-August, 1995

"The pace, the historical perspective, and the mandate postulated support a high recommendation that this volume be added to your reading list." -- Linda Foley, Network News, NASADAD

"identifies many...alcoholics; the English King Henry VIII, Ivan the Terrible, Beethoven, the British traitors Burgess, Maclean, Philby, Blunt, five out of seven U.S. writers who won the Nobel Prize for Literature... [He] certainly proves his main point: that alcoholism, directly or indirectly, has had [great] effect on human history. -- David Gamon, Mensa International Journal, May, 1995

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 235 pages
  • Publisher: Aculeus Pr (May 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0963024221
  • ISBN-13: 978-0963024220
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,489,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Doug Thorburn on July 13, 1998
Format: Paperback
I was half-way through writing my first book, Drunks, Drugs & Debits: How to Recognize Addicts and Avoid Financial Abuse, when I found this masterpiece. Until I read it, I couldn't explain the highly functional addict. This made sense of what seemed an irreconcilable paradox. I then wrote this very early review, as I continued writing my book throughout 1998:

James Graham has brilliantly explained much of mankind's most sordid history, something other historian's have failed to do. His observation that poor behavior, whether on the micro- or macro- scale, frequently has alcoholism at its roots is both perceptive and courageous.

While recognizing alcoholism as a disease and pointing out it results in massive personality flaws, he calls for swift punishment of actual wrongdoings. In so doing, he is the first to truly bridge the gap between the disease model and mental health model of addiction.

His explanation of a fundamental personality change caused by alcoholism, egomania, explains the rest of the bizarre and terrible behaviors of the addict. Such behaviors as false accusations and other lying, craftiness, grandiosity and unreasonable resentments suddenly make sense, even if devastating to others around them. Applying these behaviors in his search for violative, nasty, trouble-making and murderous historic names and incidents gives pause to the thoughtful reader as to the existence of addicts in both our public and private lives.
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Format: Paperback
Anyone who has been romantically involved with an alcoholic or has an alcoholic family member owes it to themselves to read this book. While Graham focuses on famous despots, tyrants, and celebrities, the same attributes are in some degree present in your basic everyday non-famous alcoholic friend, neighbor or lover. If you love an alcoholic you must understand this. Graham points out the dangerous combination of the alcoholics charm, deception, denial and obsession with looking functional and the tendency to underdiagnose the disease. This underdiagnosis, as Graham points out, is partly due to a bias of society resulting from the ability of most people to drink alcohol without becoming an alcoholic as well as not understanding the differences between highly functional early and middle stage alcoholics and late stage lushes and winos. After reading this book I could understand what the relationsip and marriage counselors were saying about the dangers of loving an alcoholic. Alcoholics are experts at deception and manipulation, they have shallow or stunted emotional growth, they are unable to express themselves honestly and directly, and they can tell you they love you while not caring about you at all. Although they may not become a famous writer, actor, senator or spy, they will become a highly successful con artist and if you are unaware of these traits, you could easily become their victim.
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Format: Paperback
I must have forgotten that I'd written a review a couple of years earlier, and somehow didn't notice the duplication. I wrote this near the publication of my first book on the subject, Drunks, Drugs & Debits: How to Recognize Addicts and Avoid Financial Abuse. My review is woefully understated and didn't begin to describe how crucial it was in the evolution of my thinking. Perhaps it's because paradigm shifts in thinking take time to digest. With this in mind, here's what I wrote way back in mid-2000:

This is a phenomenally interesting work. James Graham describes the role of ego inflation in explaining behaviors in the alcoholic, something that nobody else had done before. This is extremely important, because it provides what is sometimes the only clue to alcohol addiction in the early stages of the disease-a massively inflated ego. This often results in extraordinary over achievement, even while the personal life is a shambles.

Combined with Milam and Ketcham's essential work, "Under the Influence," ego-inflation explains how the early-stage addict is often so "functional" and yet, so destructive of others. Brain poisoning occurs immediately in many cases, resulting in this other-destruction. Yet, the toll on the body can take decades, making alcoholism at this stage almost invisible to the casual observer. Most think of addicts on the street, or the obvious, stumbling drunk. This is not when they are most dangerous. Their behaviors are frequently far worse when they can build up to a .20 per cent blood alcohol level without visible signs of inebriation.
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Format: Paperback
I recommend this book for nonalcoholics whose lives are affected by another person's drinking, but it's not a good choice for an active or recovering alcoholic. Graham's style imparts an understandable but misguided tone of moralism, anger and self-righteousness that's based on the common and widely accepted myth that alcoholics choose to drink and can recover if they want to bad enough and those who don't are too weak or unmotivated. That tone will unnecessarily pour salt in the painful wounds of an alcoholic. But anybody who has ever loved an alcoholic can identify with and relate to Graham's self-righteous tone. Graham does an excellent job of relating typical experiences of alcoholics as seen through the bewildered eyes and felt with the frustrated, angry emotions of the nonalcoholics who love them. Such nonalcoholics can relate to (and perhaps find comfort and relief in) his discussions of the alcoholic ego, alcoholic charm, lies, false accusations, phone addictions, paranoia, promiscuity, high tolerance for inappropriate behavior and puzzling choices of friends, as well as issues related to loyalty, control, money and parenting (among others). Nonalcoholics who have alcoholics in their lives may read Graham's book and feel a sense of "Oh, I get it! This is part of the disease, not something I'm personally doing wrong." A few months after reading this book, I read "Under The Influence," by James Milam. As somebody affected by the drinking of others, I found this to be a good pairing. Graham's book helped me understand that my experiences were typical rather than unique, and that bizarre (and downright MEAN) behaviors are an integral part of the progression of alcoholism.Read more ›
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