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John Barleycorn: "Alcoholic Memoirs" (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – Jan 1 1998

4.8 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Paperback, Jan 1 1998
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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (Jan. 1 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192837176
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192837172
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.8 x 5.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
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Format: Paperback
John Barleycorn is a tremondous book. One of the first things that will impress you about this book is London's life. London was a literal 'super-man' in the Carlyle sense. This book details how London raised himself from incredible child hood poverty and lower class surroundings while still a teen, engaging in rugged, manly adverntures that were simply amazing. This book also relates how London's love of books changed his life, and it will amaze you that his knowledge is so broad (throughout the book London dazzles us with philosophical qoutes and insights).
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.
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Format: Paperback
It may seem silly to ask this of a book that, at the time of its publication was used by the WCTU for their campaign, and which is recommended today by Alcoholics Anonymous; but ask it I will.
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.
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I order this a while ago and finally finished it. Normally I could read a book like this quite quickly but I've just been busy so read it in fragments. Some books would have gotten forgotten, but not this gem; I kept coming back to it. It is the most honest and well-written account of the effects of drinking that I have read. It is far more than that though; it gives you a great look into the man himself---Jack London. The reader gains insight into his early introduction to drinking, his adventures, toils, success, and ultimate mental struggle with depression. He is at times arrogant, but always honest and possessor of a razor sharp intellect. His description of social situations and events will keep you entertained, but stay with this book and you will be rewarded with some of the best philosophical musings, in my opinion, towards the end.
There are so many pathetic books by quasi experts these days, it is really refreshing to read something written by a true expert who devoted his troubled life to the art of writing. As relevant today as when written.
The silent advice here comes from his it and see what I mean.
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Format: Paperback
With all the gushy, cliche-ridden, Recovery oriented self-help books teeming in the bookstores these days, it's always refreshing to find a well-written, lyrical account of of an author's love/hate affair with alcohol. This said, the book hardly seems one to be recommended by AA or the temperance movement. Although, as pointed out by another reviewer, the author equivocates in usually one or two line disclaimers after long passages in which he narrates an alcoholic episode, the overall effect almost amounts to an apotheosis of alcohol and its effects. Indeed, it is personified in the book by what London calls "The White logic," and the most moving, lyrical and philosophical passages are given to this "character" in the book.
Consider the following quotes about "him" and his effects:
"He is the august companion with whom one walks with the gods."
"And every thought was a vision, bright-imaged, sharp-cut, unmistakable. My brain was illuminated by the clear, white light of alcohol."
Most importantly consider what "he" says:
"Let the doctors of all schools condemn me....What of it? I am truth. You know it....Life lies in order to live. Life is a perpetual lie-telling process. Life is a mad dance in the domain of flux, wherein appearances in mighty tides ebb and flow...You are such an appearance, composed of countless appearances out of the past. All an appearance can know is mirage."
I don't think so great a poet as Shelley could have put this ghastly vision of life more powerfully in prose form, though he does in verse, in his last, ironically titled poem, The Triumph Of Life.
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