The best books on drink of 2017

Henry Jeffreys discovers the controversy surrounding champagne and the magic of brewing beer

Out of this year’s bumper crop of drinks books, it’s good to see one that gets to the point of why we drink. From A Short History of Drunkenness (Viking) I learned how alcohol affects different people and cultures in very different ways. Lou Reed had it right in “The Power of Positive Drinking” when he sang: “Some people drink to unleash their libidos / And other people drink to prop up their egos.” The ancient Egyptians were into binge drinking, vomiting and then having an orgy all in a bid to get closer to the gods, or so they claimed. With a great eye for a story and a counterintuitive argument, Mark Forsyth has enormous fun breezing through 10,000 years of alcoholic history in a little more than 250 pages.

Less drunken but almost as ...

The Angry Chef by Anthony Warner review – detox and other food nonsense

Warner has it in for nutrition experts, dieticians, pseudoscience – and Gwyneth Paltrow In 2008 Jess Ainscough, an Australian magazine journalist, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, epithelioid sarcoma. Rather than undergo the drastic treatment prescribed by her doctor, amputation of her arm and shoulder combined with chemotherapy, she decided to combat the illness with something called Gerson Therapy, which involved drinking vegetable juice with coffee enemas four times day. Styling herself “The Wellness Warrior”, she charted her progress on a blog, which became a sensation. When her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, she decided to shun conventional treatment and follow her daughter’s regime. Ainscough’s mother died in 2013 and her own cancer, a slow-moving type, which is why she believed her diet to be working, began to spread; she died in 2015. With conventional treatment both women might be alive today. Related: What do ...

Smoke Over Malibu by Tim Walker review – hardboiled hilarity

An LA-set caper nods to Ellroy and Chandler while firing jokes at everything from hipsters to reality TVDo you remember when Hollywood films were intelligent, literate and original? Lucius Kluge does. Kluge – or Lucky, as he’s ironically known to his friends – came to Hollywood from England in the noughties hoping to make just such films, but failed to hit the big time. He now scrapes a slightly seedy living scoping house clearances for valuable antiques. He not only works in antiques but, by LA standards, lives in one: a “one-bedroom guest cottage behind a restored jigsaw gothic in Angelino Heights. The big house is as venerable as they come in southern California.” Kluge is a man out of time: he writes cheques and refuses to own a smartphone. When his house clearance partner asks him, “C’mon, you never heard of Bacon Ninja? It was like No 1 in ...

Measure for measure: a history of booze in books

From Brideshead Revisited to James Bond, alcohol plays a key role in fiction. Henry Jeffreys distils the best sozzled scenes – and the worst hangovers So closely are some of the giants of 20th-century literature associated with alcohol that modern readers might be forgiven for thinking a serious booze habit was once the equivalent of a degree in creative writing from the University of East Anglia. It’s not surprising that alcohol permeates the work of writers such as Kingsley Amis, Ernest Hemingway and Dorothy Parker. They were writing about what they knew. In many of the short stories in Shaken and Stirred: Intoxicating Stories (Everyman Pocket Classics), a drunken incident is the motor of the narrative. For example in Alice Munro’s “An Ounce of Cure” a lovestruck teenager gets paralytic while babysitting and becomes an outcast at school, “but there was a positive, a splendidly unexpected, result of ...

The best books on drink of 2016

Henry Jeffreys raises a glass to the British pub – and goes in search of volcanic wines
Vote: What was your favourite book of the year?In April last year a pristine 1920s pub, the Carlton Tavern in Maida Vale, London, was illegally demolished just days before it gained listed status. This is not an unusual occurrence nowadays, but the story might have a happy ending as Westminster City Council has ordered the developer to rebuild the pub “brick by brick”. If this happens, it will be a rare victory for the beleaguered British pub. Pete Brown’s book The Pub: A Cultural Institution (Jacqui Small), therefore, could not be more timely. It is part history, part celebration and part guide to some of the best pubs in the country. He is such a prolific writer, I sometimes wonder whether, as with Rembrandt, there is a school of ...

The best drink books of 2015

From fine wine to hipster sherry – Henry Jeffreys goes in search of the genre’s least dry offerings

If you mention the word wine to most people, it will probably conjure up images of merriment: wining and dining, wine, women and song. Wine o’clock. For some reason that sense of fun rarely translates into books on wine. They tend to be as dry as chablis. That’s not to say wine enthusiasts don’t have a sense of humour – say “Carignan Camping” to one and he’ll be in stitches – but wine jokes do tend to be rather specialised.

Before attempting any funny stuff, it’s best to have a basic knowledge of the subject, and two good introductions have been launched this year. From wine merchants Berry Bros & Rudd comes Exploring and Tasting Wine. There used to be a rule that all new wine books must have an introduction by ...

Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig by Mark Essig review

This is a witty history of western civilisation told through our four-legged pork producer

As an inveterate meat-eater, what is my desert island animal? Easy: the pig (perhaps accompanied by a Spanish charcuterist). Sausage, bacon, pork chops, chorizo, ham, barbecue, suckling pig and black pudding all come from what Homer Simpson calls “a wonderful, magical animal”. What is more, on a desert island no other animal will multiply as quickly. European explorers in the 16th century would drop a boar and some sows on uninhabited lands so that their successors would have a plentiful supply of food. Pregnant for less than four months, a sow produces between eight and 12 piglets. Truly the pig should be man’s best friend, but our relationship with this bountiful beast is a troubled one: the word cowboy has heroic associations (unless applied to builders) but to call someone a swineherd is an insult.

Like the dog, ...