Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine

Front Cover
Oxford University Press, Sep 19, 1996 - Health & Fitness - 224 pages
31 Reviews
Alcohol and caffeine are deeply woven into the fabric of life for most of the worlds population, as close and as comfortable as a cup of coffee or a can of beer. Yet for most people they remain as mysterious and unpredictable as the spirits they were once thought to be. Now, in Buzz, Stephen Braun takes us on a myth-shattering tour of these two popular substances, one that blends fascinating science with colorful lore, and that includes cameo appearances by Shakespeare and Balzac, Buddhist monks and Arabian goat herders, even Mikhail Gorbachev and David Letterman (who once quipped, If it werent for the coffee, Id have no identifiable personality whatsoever). Much of what Braun reveals directly contradicts conventional wisdom about alcohol and caffeine. Braun shows, for instance, that alcohol is not simply a depressant as popularly believed, but is instead a pharmacy in a bottle--mimicking the action of drugs such as cocaine, amphetamine, valium, and opium. At low doses, it increases electrical activity in the same brain systems affected by stimulants, influences the same circuits targeted by valium, and causes the release of morphine-like compounds known as endorphins--all at the same time. This explains why alcohol can produce a range of reactions, from boisterous euphoria to dark, brooding hopelessness. Braun also shatters the myth that alcohol kills brain cells, reveals why wood alcohol or methanol causes blindness, and explains the biological reason behind the one-drink-per-hour sobriety rule (thats how long it takes the liver, working full tilt, to disable the 200 quintillion ethanol molecules found in a typical drink). The author then turns to caffeine and shows it to be no less remarkable. We discover that more than 100 plant species produce caffeine molecules in their seeds, leaves, or bark, a truly amazing distribution throughout nature (nicotine, in comparison, is found only in tobacco; opium only in the poppy). Its not surprising then that caffeine is far and away the most widely used mind altering substance on the planet, found in tea, coffee, cocoa, chocolate, soft drinks, and more than 2,000 non-prescription drugs. (Tea is the most popular drink on earth, with coffee a close second.) Braun also explores the role of caffeine in creativity: Johann Sebastian Bach, for one, loved coffee so much he wrote a Coffee Cantata (as Braun notes, no music captures the caffeinated experience better than one of Bachs frenetic fugues), Balzac would work for 12 hours non-stop, drinking coffee all the while, and Kant, Rousseau, and Voltaire all loved coffee. And throughout the book, Braun takes us on many engaging factual sidetrips--we learn, for instance, that Theodore Roosevelt coined the phrase Good to the last drop used by Maxwell House ever since; that distances between Tibetan villages are sometimes reckoned by the number of cups of tea needed to sustain a person (three cups being roughly 8 kilometers); and that John Pembertons original recipe for Coca-Cola included not only kola extract, but also cocaine. Whether you are a sophisticated consumer of cabernet sauvignon and Kenya AA or just someone who needs a cup of joe in the morning and a cold one after work, you will find Buzz to be an eye-opening, informative, and often amusing look at two substances at once utterly familiar and deeply mysterious.

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
4 stars
3 stars
2 stars
1 star

Review: Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine

User Review  - Logan - Goodreads

Accessible and easy to read. I didn't find the writing dry, but it definitely is more focused on the science than the lore of these drugs, so you have to be interested in that. I would say where this ... Read full review

Review: Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine

User Review  - Goodreads

Fun and entertaining as well as informative. I can't help but wonder how much the research has progressed since this was published in 1996! Read full review


Alcohol 101
Down the Hatch
Your Brain on Alcohol
Sex Snores and Stomach Aches
Demon Rum
The Eyelids of Bodhidharma
A Quicker Genius
The Body Wired
Better Living Through Chemistry

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page 199 - Drugs abused by humans preferentially increase synaptic dopamine concentrations in the mesolimbic system of freely moving rats.

References to this book

All Book Search results »

About the author (1996)

Stephen Braun is an award-winning science writer and television producer living in Boston. He is currently Executive Producer at the New England Research Institutes.

Bibliographic information