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Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason

de Jessica Warner

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In 1720, a new drink emerged as the overwhelming drug of choice among London's working poor; it was both affordable and many times stronger than traditional spirits. The beverage was gin, and the craze it initiated would become the 18th-century's equivalent of our crack cocaine epidemic. Craze is the first popular illustrated history to focus exclusively on the gin craze. Warner looks at the impact of "mother gin" from personal, political, and sexual perspectives. She draws on hundreds of primary sources, from Defoe to Dr. Johnson, guiding us through squalid back rooms, streets thronged with hawkers, raging mobs, and the halls of Parliament. The result is a timely, irreverent, utterly engrossing look at a city and a drug -- and a drug scare -- that helped shape our contemporary views of pleasure, consumption, and public morality.… (més)
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For the most part, a fine example of good history written for a popular audience. Jessica Warner examines the so-called "gin craze" period, which in England lasted, she suggests, from roughly 1720 through 1751. Warner offers a thorough study of gin itself, how it came to hold sway in English lower-class society for a time, and at the long-running efforts to combat its effects at every level.

She's done a nice job of ferreting out new and different sources for this, though one wishes they were better cited in the text (grumble grumble). And a minor quibble is that the book gets slightly repetitive at times. Other than that, quite nicely done. ( )
1 vota JBD1 | Oct 24, 2013 |
A interesting social history of the"gin craze" of the early 1700's and the various "Gin Laws" passed by Parliment from 1729 till 1751. Sometime humrous, sometimes sad, sometimes the reading is a bit 'dry' (;D) but on the whole an educational and interesting read ( )
1 vota usnmm2 | Sep 4, 2009 |
I don't know, I guess I enjoy reading about English debauchery. ( )
  ewalrath | Jul 18, 2009 |
How could you not like a book with that title? But it's also a fluently-written analysis of the "gin craze" of the early eighteenth century, and what it has to tell us about more recent drug scares. Warner persuasively argues that the public concern about gin had more to do with fears that the lower classes were changing and would no longer "know their place", and touches on such fascinating subjects as the first use of "political arithmetic" (now it would be called statistics) to lend gravity to what was essentially an emotional argument, and what Hogarth's famous Gin Lane and Beer Alley prints were really saying (the man fondling the barmaid's bosom in Beer Alley? that's good because beer promotes lust, which promotes children, which means that England's army will have plenty of people to be soldiers in 20 years' time). I would have preferred a little more analysis and a little less on the ins and outs of the passing of the different "Gin Acts", but overall, an easy and interesting read. ( )
  wandering_star | Mar 12, 2009 |
In this book Warner gives the reader a social and political history of the effects of gin on English culture in the mid-1700s -- primarily as it was legislated through the Gin Acts of 1729 through 1751. Although distilled liquor (or "strong water") had been around since the fifteenth century, it wasn't until the 1700s that methods of cheaply distilling liquor from local grains came to England. Before that the poor drank beer and ale, and plenty of it (Warner quotes the national average at 30 gallons a year) -- hard liquor was mostly imported and mostly for the rich. That all changed when gin came to town at a time when wages were slightly higher than usual. The working poor made room in their bellies and budgets for plenty of gin (2 gallons per person per year, at its peak -- and they didn't drink less beer, they just added on the gin), and this made the upper classes a little nervous. Why can't the poor be happy with beer and gruel? Why do they have to want gin and imported coffee? If they don't produce tons of healthy children, who will fight our wars? Single women are getting drunk and causing trouble! Aren't they getting kind of uppity? All these questions and more bounced around the halls of Parliament. To complicate matters, all that gin was heavily taxed by the government, and the government really really needed the tax money to pay for a series of long wars.

These conflicts resulted in a series of more and less stringent Gin Acts that hoped to both curb the amount of gin sold to the working poor (and the amount of unlicensed street hawkers selling that gin), and to increase the amount of tax money coming into government coffers. None of the legislation really worked though, and the primary result was more drinking with the added fun of occasional riots and mob justice for the informers who made their living testifying against unlicensed gin sellers.

The details of the various gin acts and their political motivations can get a little dull, and because of a real lack of documentation of the lives and thoughts of the poor in this time period the examples and narratives that Warner constructs are often repeated and frustratingly short on detail. Warner does a nice job of drawing on contemporary newspaper accounts and court records, and fleshes out the story as much as she can through biographies and memoirs written by politicians and authors of the era.

[full review here: http://spacebeer.blogspot.com/2008/02/craze-gin-and-debauchery-in-age-of.html ] ( )
  kristykay22 | Feb 20, 2008 |
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In 1720, a new drink emerged as the overwhelming drug of choice among London's working poor; it was both affordable and many times stronger than traditional spirits. The beverage was gin, and the craze it initiated would become the 18th-century's equivalent of our crack cocaine epidemic. Craze is the first popular illustrated history to focus exclusively on the gin craze. Warner looks at the impact of "mother gin" from personal, political, and sexual perspectives. She draws on hundreds of primary sources, from Defoe to Dr. Johnson, guiding us through squalid back rooms, streets thronged with hawkers, raging mobs, and the halls of Parliament. The result is a timely, irreverent, utterly engrossing look at a city and a drug -- and a drug scare -- that helped shape our contemporary views of pleasure, consumption, and public morality.

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