Alcohol: A History


Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.                         US$22.93                                     Available on


Although I work primarily in wine, I teach a course on the history of alcohol. To some extent this book grew out of that course and out of my history of wine. As I worked on the history of wine, I realized that other alcoholic beverages --- notably beer and spirits, but also mead and other drinks – were part of the story: the earliest spirits (brandies) were distilled wine; beer was the  drink of mass consumption in many cultures (such as ancient Egypt), while wine was consumed only by the elites; and while some temperance organizations attacked all alcoholic beverages, others focused mainly on spirits.

So this book is a history of alcohol from fermenting rotten fruit in prehistoric times to the modern alcohol beverage industry. The story includes: the connection between wine and Christianity; the Muslim world and the first successful Prohibition policy; the wine and beer trades of the Middle Ages; the transfer of European alcohol to the wider world; alcohol and imperialism; alcohol and war; alcohol and the industrial working classes; alcohol and health; Prohibition in the US, Russia/USSR, and elsewhere; alcohol and gender; and modern trends in alcohol consumption.

This is generally a global history of alcohol, but it stresses the role of Europe in fostering cultures of alcohol consumption in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania.


An enthralling piece of research… This is a fascinating history and one of my books of the year.
— Paul O’Doherty,
A must read for alcohol studies scholars.
— F.H. Smith, CHOICE
Covering more than 9,000 years… this is an ambitious book, which succeeds at least in part because of Phillips’s elegant style and his nose for recurring themes.
— Evan Rail, Times Literary Supplement