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Book Reviews

Booze: A Spirited History

by Craig Heron

What started as an art exhibition about working class people and drinking has evolved into Craig Heron’s unique social history of alcohol in Canada. Covering a period that ranges from the European colonists’ introduction of booze via the fur trade with First Nations to the latest advertising battle between the major beer companies, Booze is a serious but accessible work that never devolves into the kind of cheap punnery or list of trivial facts often associated with its subject.

Heron deftly weaves together the intersection of alcohol consumption with such issues as community recreation, the regulation of public morality, the growth of policing, the Canadian suffrage movement, and class and racial divides. Heron treats the growth of liquor kings like Molson and Seagram as a backdrop to his portrait of the daily lives of the people who consume their products. Particularly fascinating is Heron’s history of the ebb and flow of prohibitionist forces in Canada, and how groups such as labour unions went from supporting the elimination of alcohol to treating the issue as one of working-class pride and individual liberty.

Booze also explores the promotion of liquor to the masses as a healthy addition to the diet when consumed in moderation. This section features many historic posters and photographs, as well as more recent examples of liquor advertising, which together illustrate how Canadian attitudes toward drinking have changed. The book occasionally strays into the style of a textbook, with thinly disguised chapter summaries and a dry conclusion that would have been stronger with a look to the future, but these are minor lapses.