Monday, December 15, 2014

"Proof: the Science of Booze" by Adam Rogers

       Proof: the Science of Booze caught my eye when I was looking for something new to read in the science section--specifically in the topic of chemistry. Adam Rogers presents a book that is a comprehensive look at the science behind alcohol and the mystery of why it has the effect that it does...all leading the reader to the grand conclusion of: "we still don't know." Serious examination and studies all lead to the same result of "we know what it does but we don't know why."
      So why would anyone be interested in a book that takes eight chapters and almost 250 pages to tell you that much about alcohol? Well, for starters there's a ton of information that is just downright cool to learn about; like the physiological effects of what is happening to your body during a hangover, a molecular explanation about what yeast is doing to the sugars and why it is vital to the final product, or a history of prohibition that you wouldn't find in a high school history class. There's also a witty, journalistic writing style, and the science passages are written to appeal to readers who want to know about chemical reactions but might not have a PhD in molecular chemistry. Also it contains such gems as:
“If dust disperses through the air it behaves like an explosive gas -- any spark can ignite a particle, which then sets fire to all the particles near it, and so on, in a three-dimensional, fast-moving exothermic wave, which is a fancy way of saying "fiery death explosion.” 
      also:
“The CO2 has to come out, which it does by forming bubbles. Now, champagne is pressurized to six times the atmospheric pressure on earth at sea level, enough to propel a popped champagne cork faster than 30 miles an hour. Lesson: letting the cork shoot out of a bottle when you open it is both tacky and dangerous.”
      and let's not forget:
“You have to be smarter, let’s say, than the German researchers who found liquid in a centuries-old container and simply drank the stuff, figuring they’d be able to taste anything interesting.” 
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       It's less of scientific explanation as to the "why" of alcohol, and more of a scientific explanation as to the "how." There is a "why" present, but it is the closer examination as to alcohol's effect on the development of human society. “William Faulkner is supposed to have said, "Civilization begins with distillation," but I'd push even further -- beyond just distilled spirits to wine, beer, mead, sake ... all of it. Booze is civilization in a glass”(Adam Rogers). This is not a book about why people should or should not drink, nor is it a lecture. This book is a history of the human story...as seen from a glass of fermented grain, which makes it an interesting combination of a history book and a science book. I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone with an interest in chemistry or history, as it shows the development of a product that seems to always come back to the central consciousness of civilization.
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      Want to see what else Adam Rogers has to say about the science and history behind humanity's love of fermentation? Proof: the Science of Booze is available at the Ocean City Free Public Library.

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