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August 19, 1974

The American Alcoholic: The Nature-Nurture Controversy in Alcoholic Research and Therapy

Author Affiliations

Washington University School of Medicine St. Louis

JAMA. 1974;229(8):1112. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230460062035

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This hodgepodgy book was written by an anthropologist who believes that alcoholism experts—himself and a few others excluded—can be divided into two groups: those who believe alcoholism is a biological disease and those who disagree. The two groups are locked in "mortal combat," each "resolved to destroy the other." As an anthropologist, the author prefers to view man as a "whole" and the aim of his book is to achieve a kind of pax alcoholica, synthesizing many theories.

The result is chaos. The book has 473 references, many of them drawn from novels and the popular press. Much of the book consists of one quotation after another—sometimes six or seven to the page—with little apparent attempt to discriminate between theories of no merit, little merit, or considerable merit. The author on the one hand stresses how little we know and on the other smothers the reader in dogmatic and often