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January 26, 1990

Alcohol and the Writer

JAMA. 1990;263(4):590. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03440040137045

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From the very first sentence in the preface of Dr Donald W. Goodwin's fifth book about alcoholism, Alcohol and the Writer ("I discovered books and alcohol at about the same age: seven."), the reader is captivated both by the extraordinarily interesting material presented and by Dr Goodwin's obvious and enthralling talent and style.

The book's thesis is that American writers in the first half of the 20th century had an unusually great proclivity to drink excessively, to the extent that they meet current diagnostic criteria for alcoholism. Dr Goodwin, an internationally recognized researcher in alcoholism, and in his former career a full-time newspaper editor and columnist, describes "this epidemic of alcoholism in American writers." He supports his thesis in eight chapter biographies of Americans Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, and Eugene O'Neill, Canadian novelist Malcolm Lowry, and French-language novelist Georges Simenon. These lively