Most of all though, this book is about alcoholism. As one reviewer correctly notes, London had a strong liking for intoxication. However, one would be wrong to think of this book as pro-drinking, London is fairly fanatical in his dislike of alcohol and what it eventually did to him and other young men of his age. However, the brilliance of these 'alcoholic memoirs' is that he successfully illuminates the thought processes of most intelligent persons that have drinking problems. You will come away from this book understanding why many people, even an almost super-human person like Jack London, can fall prey to this vice. An absorbing read, and the book has a much more reader friendly and 'modern' style than many of London's fiction.
Let me note that "John Barleycorn" is one of Jack London's best books, and the closest thing to an autobiography he ever wrote. Chapters XXXVI and XXXVII, where he describes the "White Logic," contain some the finest, most lyrical, most poetic writing he ever did.
He describes the minuses of alcohol, AND he describes the plusses of alcohol. He describes BOTH the minuses AND plusses vividly, with all the skill of a great writer. He is a man who LOVES alcohol. He is a man who knows he has been damaged by alcohol. He describes both.
He praises saloon-keepers:
"Saloon-keepers are notoriously good fellows. On an average they perform vastly greater generosities than do business men. When I simply had to have ten dollars, desperate, with no place to turn, I went to Johnny Heinhold. Several years had passed since I had been in his place or spent a cent across his bar. And when I went to borrow the ten dollars I didn't buy a drink, either. And Johnny Heinhold let me have the ten dollars without security or interest...."
Of course, he balances this by explaining how this is in saloon-keepers own interest, and says "this is not to exalt saloon-keepers."
He praises the physical strength alcohol provides:
"And here again we come to another side of many-sided John Barleycorn. On the face of it, he gives something for nothing. Where no strength remains he finds new strength. The wearied one rises to greater effort. For the time being there is an actual accession of strength.Read more ›