RSC - Advancing the Chemical Sciences



Alcohol and its Role in the Evolution of Human Society

Alcohol and its Role in the Evolution of Human Society

Ian S Hornsey (Author)
ISBN: 978-1-84973-161-4
Copyright: 2012
Format: Paperback
Extent: 684
Price:  £29.99


Archaelogists and anthropologists (especially ethnologists) have for many years realised that man's ingestion of alcoholic beverages may well have played a significant part in his transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculturalist. This unqiue book provides a scientific text on the subject of 'ethanol' that also aims to include material designed to show 'non-scientists' what fermentation is all about. Conversely, scientists may well be surprised to find the extent to which ethanol has played a part in evolution and civilisation of our species.

Author Information

Following a successful career in academia as a Senior Lecturer and Head of Microbiology at Anglia Ruskin University, Ian Hornsey decided to concentrate on brewing. He co-founded and directed the Nethergate Brewery from 1985 until in 1999 oral cancer forced him to retire and take to writing about the science behind the brewing industry. Now a regular contributor to The Brewer & Distiller International, What's Brewing, and other trade publications, he has also written several best selling books.


...this book is an excellent and diverse resource for those wishing to learn about historical brewing ingredients, practices and the genomics of the various sugar and yeast components used...
Source : Chromatographia, 2013 76:105

The author modestly describes his book as an attempt to provide a basis for further research into the significance of alcohol in the advancement of mankind, for example in the transition of humans from hunter-gatherers to farmers. Nevertheless, he himself goes a long way towards this goal.
Source : The Biologist Vol 60 No: 1

"gives a description of the science and social context of its production from the viewpoint of a former academic microbiologist and professional brewer."

"with fascinating asides such as the politics of wheat use for beer versus bread, or the ceremonial use of sake."

"the discussions of the state of the art and speculation on the future of this field particularly interesting."

"Hornsey’s tour de force covers an immense amount of ground at an impressive depth. Readers unfamiliar with the fundamentals of brewing technology, metabolic pathways and plant biology may find themselves having to make use of the extensive references to get the most out of the text."

"useful addition to libraries that seek supplementation to holdings that cover the "fermentation of grapes or rice."
Source : Choice, March 2013 Vol. 50 No. 07

"...good addition to collections that provide mostly archeological evidence on the formation of society, religion, and agriculture."
Source : Choice, March 2013 Vol. 50 No. 07

"Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates, graduate sttrdents, researchers/faculty, and professionals."
Source : Choice, March 2013 Vol. 50 No. 07

Two 19th-century lithographs reproduced in this excellent book highlight just one of the many ways in which alcohol, its production and consumption have affected the development of human society. One shows Peruvian women chewing maize in order to convert the starch into sugar by amylolysis, after which they used the semi-digested material to brew chichi. The other picture is of their menfolk drinking and enjoying the product. There was an almost manufacture and use. There are sections on Saccharomyces cerevisiae and other producers; the biochemistry of fermentation; barley and other grasses; sources of sugar such as grapes, apples and honey; and finally the anthropology and archaeology of booze. The only quibble I have with this highly original work is the assertion on the jacket that alcohol has played a role in the civilisation of our species. Observations in any town centre in Britain on a Friday or Saturday night would soon modify this judgement.
Source : Society of Biology - Review 60 no 1 p34