Upgrade to the Flash 9 viewer for enhanced content, including the ability to browse & search through your favorite titles.
Click here to learn more!
“Who will ever relate the whole history of narcotica? It is almost the history of ‘culture,’ of our so-called higher culture.”
—Friedrich Nietzsche, 1882
With Nietzsche’s question as his objective, Stuart Walton begins Out of It: A Cultural History of Intoxication—a heterodox and thoroughly engaging examination of intoxicants, from the more everyday substances of alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco to the illicit realm of opiates, amphetamines, and hallucinogens. More than a mere catalog of intoxicants, however, Walton’s book is a smart, wry look at why intoxication has always been a part of the human experience—from our earliest Stone Age rituals to the practices of the ancient Greeks and Romans, right on through the Victorian era and ending with a flourish in modern times—and more significantly, why the use of intoxicants is, and will continue to be, an essential part of being human.
Using gastronomy as an example, Walton illustrates that just as the study of food history was relatively unheard of until the 1970s, so too “intoxicology” has yet to be recognized as a richly warranted field of study. Though intoxication may not be considered as essential to human existence as food, and carries the unjust stigma of criminality, Walton proposes that it is “an integral part of Western civilization, and that we would do better to accept and celebrate that fact instead of making it a matter of criminal sanctions and repression.”
The conclusions Walton draws cut across the grain of today’s prevailing attitudes and fuel an important and often neglected debate, ultimately establishing that intoxication is not only a fundamental human right but, in fact, a biological imperative.
“Walton is particularly, and convincingly, engrossing, an elegant and forceful stylist, and were this a longer review I would quote copiously to prove the point. For the moment, you will have to take this on trust.”