The Points Interview: Chris Finan

chrisChris Finan is the author of the books Alfred E. Smith: The Happy Warrior (Hill & Wang, 2002), From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America (Beacon Press, 2008), and Drunks: An American History (Beacon, 2017). He currently serves as Executive Director for the National Coalition Against Censorship and was previously President of American Booksellers for Free Expression. Finan received his PhD. in American History from Columbia University in 1992 and has been involved in anti-censorship efforts for the past 35 years. He lives in Brooklyn.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Actually, one of the first persons I described the book to was a bartender.  I was at a reception at book convention in Minneapolis, and he wandered over before it was time to start pouring drinks to talk about my book, which was on display.  He had been lucky enough to get sober in the “land of 1,000 rehabs.”  I told him that my book tells the stories of the people who have led the recovery movement since the colonial period and ultimately saved his life–and mine.
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The Points Interview: Jane T. Merritt

Dr. Jane T. Merritt is an associate professor of history at Old Dominion University and author of the new book, The Trouble with Tea: The Politics of Consumption in the Eighteenth-Century Global Economy (Johns Hopkins, 2016).

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Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The Trouble with Tea explores 18th century consumer culture, market economies, and their political use and meaning.  The core of the book’s argument questions the old adage among economic historians that consumer demand drove merchants to provide an ever-increasing supply of goods, thus sparking a Consumer Revolution in the early eighteenth century.  Tea presents a different picture.  Instead, political concerns about the domination of Britain in a global economy and the corporate machinations of the English East India Company (EIC) in the 1720s and 1730s produced an over-supply of Chinese tea that the Company then funneled to North America, hoping to find a market.  American consumers only slowly habituated themselves to the beverage, aided by the availability of Caribbean sugar.  Still, American merchants and consumers took to tea by mid-century, even as colonial activists called for a boycott of British goods.  Boston wasn’t the only place that held a “Tea Party” to protest imperial tax policy in late 1773.  Citizens of Philadelphia, New York, Edenton, North Carolina, and Charleston also destroyed or forcibly returned the EIC tea commissioned for sale in North America.  In truth, however, Americans did not reject luxury consumption or tea; they simply wanted quicker, easier access to foreign commercial markets, which they returned to soon after the American Revolution.  Ironically, individual states and the new federal government established under the 1787 constitution revived taxes and tariffs on tea as a key source of revenue.  Creating, then fulfilling consumer desires, has always been a driving force in the American economy.Read More »

The Points Interview: Pamela Donovan

Editor’s Note: Pamela Donovan is the author of Drink Spiking and Predatory Drugging: A Modern History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). She holds a PhD in Sociology from City University of New York Graduate Center. Donovan taught criminology and sociology courses for 20 years, and left academia to pursue freelance book editing and due diligence investigation. Her main areas of interest are drug and alcohol studies, as well as the small scholarly world of rumor studies. Her previous book was No Way of Knowing: Crime, Urban Legends and the Internet (Routledge, 2004).

1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.
Well, there are bartenders as part of general audience that might be interested in this topic, and then there are bartenders as bartenders, particularly the ones at nightclubs, who no doubt have an interesting front line view of the current date-rape-drugs scare.
As an interested general audience, I’d say that my book is about the ways in which the fear, and occasional reality, of using drugs surreptitiously on people turns out to be related to other dramatic changes in modernizing societies. These changes include the psycho-pharmaceutical revolution that begins in the mid-1800s and really takes off in the mid-20th century. Governments and medical authorities try to create boundaries around usage that ordinary people resist and find ways around. We long for a series of precise and perfect cures, but we, at the same time, fear being controlled by chemically induced states of mind. We don’t feel like we can balance those benefits and risks ourselves. We are techno-utopians, when we feel as if psycho-pharma can deliver us to our real selves, and five seconds later, we are techno-dystopians, feeling as is we are at the mercy of bad actors who want to turn us into zombies. Read More »

The Points Interview: Claire Clark

Claire Clark teaches at the University of Kentucky, where she is an assistant professor of Behavioral Science, secondarily appointed in the Department of History, and associated with the Program for Bioethics. The Recovery Revolution: The Battle Over Addiction Treatment in the United States (Columbia University Press, 2017) is a history of therapeutic community treatment for drug addiction.
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1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The Recovery Revolution explores the rise of addiction treatment in the United States since the 1960s. It does this by tracing the development of a peer-led treatment model called the “therapeutic community” (TC). TCs in the US had their roots in a controversial California commune, Synanon, whose residents promoted a unique, neo-Victorian brand of drug treatment. At the time, addiction treatment was mostly limited to a few hospitals and correctional facilities; both elites and people struggling with addiction were frustrated with the existing options. A small group of self-described “ex-addicts” ignited a treatment revolution in response, and their moral treatment philosophy had an outsized influence on the industry that developed in the decades that followed.Read More »

The Points Interview: Martin Torgoff

Points is pleased to feature Martin Torgoff discussing his new book, Bop Apocalypse: Jazz, Race, the Beats, and Drugs (De Capo, 2017).

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Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

My last book, Can’t Find My Way Home: America In the Stoned Age, told the story of how the use of illicit drugs went from the underground to the mainstream, and how that changed the cultural landscape of America. This book tells the story of the underground itself–how drug use entered the DNA of our popular culture in the first place.Read More »

The Points Interview: Murray Carpenter

51vvjkjjkll-_sx331_bo1204203200_Editor’s Note: Today we welcome Murray Carpenter to our author interview series. His book, Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us, was published by Penguin in 2014.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world, and yet most of us do not think of it as a drug. We simply think of it in terms of the caffeine delivery mechanisms we enjoy—coffee, tea, soda or chocolate. For most people, in moderate doses, caffeine has short-term benefits, making us feel alert, energetic, and happy. It improves athletic performance, and emerging research suggests long-term health benefits, too. But it has very real risks for some people, triggering anxiety, and interrupting sleep. Caffeinated is a wide-angle investigation of caffeine culture in the U.S. I reported the book from research labs, the Green Mountain/Keurig plant in Vermont, coffee farms in Colombia, the world’s largest tea market in Beijing, a cocoa farm in Mexico, and a triathlon in Hawaii.

What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

In October 1909, federal agents seized a truckload of Coca-Cola syrup as it crossed the border from Georgia to Tennessee. Harvey Wiley, the hard-charging director of the Bureau of Chemistry (predecessor to the FDA), alleged that the beverage was misbranded, containing neither coca nor kola, and that it was adulterated with an addictive substance: caffeine. (At that time, the caffeine was extracted from waste tea leaves by a fledgling St. Louis chemical company called Monsanto.) The case went all the way to the Supreme Court before being settled in 1917 with a consent decree.

The court documents and press coverage provide remarkable details about the Coke of that era. In those days, Coke was typically sold in 8-ounce servings, with 80 milligrams of caffeine—the exact size and caffeine dose of today’s Red Bull. Put another way, Coca-Cola invented the energy drink more than a century ago. The court case led Coke to alter its formula, reducing the caffeine concentration.

Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?

The most interesting aspect of the book was investigating the powdered caffeine industry. First, I visited the largest coffee decaffeination plant in the US, in Houston, which produces about a million pounds of powdered caffeine annually. I learned that is a drop in the bucket. The U.S. imports 15 million pounds of caffeine powder annually. That’s enough to fill 300 40-foot shipping containers. (Imagine a freight train two miles long, each car loaded to the brim with psychoactive powder.) Most of that is blended into soft drinks. And it’s powerful stuff—a 12-ounce can of Coke requires just 34 milligrams, about 1/64th of a teaspoon. Ten grams, about a tablespoon, will kill an adult.

Most of the powdered caffeine we import is synthetic—produced in pharmaceutical plants. Like much of the pharmaceutical industry, it’s largely been offshored to lightly regulated factories in China and India. Just three Chinese plants produced nearly half of our total imports in 2011, seven million pounds. I tried to visit plants in China, Germany and India as part of my research. My requests for tours were denied. But I did see the exterior of the world’s largest caffeine factory, in a dingy industrial park in Shijiazhuang, China.

Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?

I would like to see more caffeine research in three areas. It would be interesting to learn more about how small doses of caffeine—like the 34 milligrams in a can of Coke—influence consumer choices. We still have more to learn about our genetic predispositions to metabolize caffeine differently, despite a lot of terrific research in this area. Finally, we have more to learn about caffeine’s long-term effects on neurological health. Intriguing research suggests that caffeine is associated with cognitive health, but it is challenging to separate the effects of caffeine from the effects of other constituents of coffee, which is still Americans’ primary source of our favorite drug.

BONUS QUESTION: In an audio version of this book, who should provide the narration?

My boring answer is that the narrator should be Sean Pratt, who actually read the audiobook and did a great job!

The Points Interview: Tom Shroder

Editor’s Note: The latest installment of our interview series features Tom Shroder, author of Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal, published by Blue Rider Press in 2014.

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1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The hysteria surrounding recreational use of psychedelic drugs in the 1960s caused the government to overreact and criminalize a drug that had been used successfully for 15 years to treat some of the most difficult problems in psychiatry with astounding success. The new laws failed to stop recreational use, but they shut down legitimate research into medical use totally. Most doctors and researchers gave up due to the outsize stigma of even admitting an interest in psychedelic research, but a small group of believers refused to abandon such promising therapy. Acid Test is the story how this small group overcame almost impossible obstacles to finally bring psychedelic therapy to the brink of FDA approval.Read More »

The Points Interview: Richard Grace

Editor’s Note: Today’s interviewee, Dr. Richard J. Grace, is Professor Emeritus of History at Providence College. His book, Opium and Empire: The Lives and Careers of William Jardine and James Mathseon (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2014; paperback edition, 2015) will soon be available in Chinese from Beijing United Publishing Co.

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Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand. And what do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about it?

Opium and Empire explores the lives and careers of two of the most influential British merchants  in East Asia in the first half of the nineteenth century. These Scots, William Jardine (1784-1843) and James Matheson (1796-1878), operated a partnership at Canton (now Guangzhou), trading in various commodities,  and engaging in insurance, shipping, and finance. Their most important commodity was opium, which was illegal in China. For the most part they served as agents for investors far afield, especially in India, by marketing their opium for a fee, to buyers in the Gulf of Canton. The Chinese buyers would smuggle the cargoes of opium ashore, sometimes with the connivance of local government authorities.Read More »

The Points Interview: Michael Lewis

Editor’s Note: Today’s interview is with Dr. Michael Lewis, author of the new book, The Coming of Southern Prohibition (out now from LSU Press). He is an assistant professor of sociology at Christopher Newport University. Contact Dr. Lewis at mlewis@cnu.edu. 

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Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The Coming of Southern Prohibition is a story about profit from liquor sales- who gets it and how the government sometimes uses morality and fear to make rules to ensure they get more of it. In 1892 South Carolina’s Governor Benjamin Tillman did just that, creating a statewide system of liquor stores that kept all the liquor profits for the state and county government. The subsequent decisions that South Carolina counties made about how many liquor stores they should permit and where these ought to be located were influenced as much by the chances of increasing profit than they were by preventing
alcohol sales to the “riff-raff” of society.

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The Points Interview: Mark Hailwood

Editor’s Note: Today’s interview comes courtesy of Mark Hailwood, author of Alehouses and Good Fellowship in Early Modern England. (Available from Boydell and Brewer, and in paperback later this month!) Contact the author at m.hailwood@exeter.ac.uk or follow him on Twitter @mark_hailwood. You can also follow his blog, Many Headed Monster, on WordPress.

  1. Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Well, it is a book of particular relevance to bartenders, because it tells the story of the emergence of their institution – at least in the English context – in the years from 1550-1700. It is a book about how and why the English pub became such a central part of our cultural life, which I argue it did for the first time in the period covered by the book. Various incarnations of the ‘pub’ existed before this time, but they were relatively few in number and their main function was to cater to travelers. Communal, recreational drinking took place instead in churchyards and church buildings, and was tied in with feast days and holy days. But after the English Reformation the church became hostile to such activity, and recreational drinkers found a new home in the growing number of alehouses that sprang up in villages and towns all across England.

This rise of the alehouse was a controversial process though: the government in particular were concerned about the effects that recreational drinking had on the work ethic and the political loyalty of its subjects, and they launched an ambitious campaign to try and restrict both the numbers and the functions of alehouses, including introducing a one-hour time limit on drinking in an alehouse. The state martialed all of its resources to try and discipline this emerging institution, but the book shows – through a close study of the regulatory records generated by such efforts – that many publicans and villagers dug their heels in, and ultimately resisted the bulk of regulation directed against them. The reason why so many villagers rallied behind the institution, I argue, is because alehouses had quickly become important sites of what contemporaries called ‘good fellowship’ – a popular and significant form of social bonding, based around choreographed drinking rituals, that appealed to many men and women of both the lower and middles classes.  So, it is a book about the way ordinary villagers fought for and won a place for recreational drinking at the heart of English community life, one that it still holds to this day.

  1. What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

I’d like to hope they might find the whole thing interesting! I have tried to construct it as a coherent overall ‘story’ about the rise of the alehouse which I hope gives it some narrative drive, but it is also an attempt to use a focus on alehouses as a way of highlighting a wide range of broader themes and issues of interest to historians – a kind of ‘prism’ effect. So, for those interested in the ways in which governments attempt to regulate alcohol and drugs it provides a case study of what I would consider one of the first examples of a concerted ‘war on drugs’ (the ‘campaign against the alehouse’). For those interested in ‘moral panics’ about alcohol and drug consumption it offers an insight into another early example, detailing the language and arguments used to condemn alehouse sociability in seventeenth-century England. Scholars interested in the relationship between alcohol or drug consumption and the formation of social identity will find plenty here on the ways in which alehouse ‘good fellowship’ fed into the articulation of individual and collective identities in the period, and historians interested in the ways that gender shapes and is shaped by practices of intoxication might be surprised to find that the alehouse was an important site of mixed-gender forms of sociability. So, in ranging quite widely I’d hope most historians of alcohol and drugs could find at least one angle that would interest them.

  1. Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?

I love uncovering colorful vignettes of the everyday lives of ordinary men and women in the past – those tantalising insights into a world that is often very difficult for historians to uncover. So, for me, the most fascinating part of researching and writing the book was turning up lots of examples of sixteenth and seventeenth century villagers engaging in bizarre drinking rituals, scatological political commentary, or touching acts of romance and friendship. I’ve written about quite a few of my favourite ‘alehouse characters’ on my own blog, and the book is packed with them, but I think the most interesting vignette of the lot was the one involving a drinking ritual from 1604, in Essex, in which a village constable led an all-night drinking bout involving a 2 gallon stone drinking vessel nicknamed ‘Fowler’ and ended with a sack placed over one man’s head and the untying of his codpiece. It’s certainly interesting trying to ‘decode’ rituals like this one!

  1. Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?

Like many historians I have tried to tell a story about historical change without being an expert on what came before or after the period I’ve studied. I’ve done my best to read up on the late medieval period, but I would love for someone to come along and challenge my overall narrative with a book about the importance of alehouses in medieval England. Likewise, I’ve done some homework on the eighteenth century, but it would be great to see more work done on the role of the alehouse in the years after my book finishes: there is a lot of work on gin in the eighteenth century, largely centred on London, but I’d really like to read a book on the ongoing political, social and cultural significance of the alehouse in England’s eighteenth-century market towns and villages. I’m not really qualified to study these periods myself, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that others will come along to fill in the gaps and provide a much clearer sense of the longer term trajectory of the role played by pubs and recreational drinking in English culture.

 

BONUS QUESTION: In an audio version of this book, who should provide the narration?

It would be nice to have it read by the English actress Maxine Peake. Given that it is in large part a story about the agency of ordinary people it would be fitting to have a narrator with a working class background, and I would also want to have a female narrator – the ‘pub’ is often thought of as a very masculine environment, but certainly in the seventeenth century it was an important social space for both women and men, so I wouldn’t want too ‘blokey’ a tone set by the narration.  It might be a bit of a step down from her recent role in Hamlet, but she did once play a character in the British sitcom ‘Early Doors’, which was an affectionate homage to the English pub, so I’d like to think she recognizes the historical importance of the institution!