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Book and Media Reviews
April 9, 2008

Alcoholism in America: From Reconstruction to Prohibition

JAMA. 2008;299(14):1726-1727. doi:10.1001/jama.299.14.1726

Alcoholism in America: From Reconstruction to Prohibition is not exactly a history of alcoholism in the Gilded and Progressive Eras, as the title might seem to imply. It does, however, provide its readers with an excellent analysis of the ideas about and various methods for treatment of alcoholism as a disease. The author, Sarah W. Tracy, begins by examining the development of various concepts of alcoholism (often called intemperance, dipsomania, or inebriety) as a disease. She then dissects the various ways in which the disease concept was “framed” or imagined in the broader cultural sense; how it interacted with and was influenced by other ideas and trends of the time; and how the view of habitual drunkenness as a vice continued to inform and complicate thinking about the causes and cures of alcoholism. The remainder of the text investigates the period's efforts to treat alcoholism in an institutional setting through a variety of mixes of medicine, moral, and spiritual programs. The author discusses the early private inebriate “homes,” including the famous Keeley Institutes, but places special emphasis on the establishment of public asylums and hospitals for those with alcohol abuse problems, which admitted both voluntary and involuntary patients. Two chapters provide detailed examinations of the experiences of the inebriate hospitals established by the states of Massachusetts and Iowa.