Stephen R. Braun: Buzz – The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine

Braun’s lucid, entertaining, and informative book is evenly split between discussion of two molecules, ethyl alcohol and caffeine, and how they behave in the human body (particularly the brain). Despite its subtitle, it’s much longer on “science” than on “lore,” but Braun doesn’t assume any particular background in organic or neuro-chemistry; Buzz is readily accessible to the lay reader. It had lots of moments that made me say “huh!” and/or inflict a read-aloud sentence or two on my fiancée; it was packed with interesting, new-to-me facts. I didn’t know, for example, that the reason methyl alcohol can blind you is that receptors in your retina chemically transform it into formaldahyde.

Braun has a particular fondness for debunking headline-making research that is not supported by following studies or where the headline soundbite misses important qualifying aspects of the research (perspective is applied to the factoids “alcohol kills brain cells,” and “red wine reduces risk of heart disease,” for instance).

On a personal note, I’m entering day six of my attempt to ratchet down my own caffeine consumption. A key fact from Braun’s book that the “half-life” of caffeine in the body is roughly 5 hours has helped me establish my transitional caffeine schedule.

One caveat: Buzz was published in 1996 and has not been revised; I’m certainly not qualified to assess how scientific understanding has changed in the intervening years.

Dept.-of-neither-here-nor-there: Buzz is the first book I’ve noticed that is available for the nook but not the Kindle, but it’s a whopping forty-one bucks in Barnes and Noble’s e-book format. Can you say “hello, library!”? I can.

needs more demons? Not really, but a glossary might not have been amiss for readers who (like me) have a smidge of trouble keeping receptors and organic compounds straight after a while.

Published by therealsummervillain

likes: equality, making things easier to use, biking, jangle, distortion, monogamy dislikes: bigotry, policies that jeopardize people, lack of transparency

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