“Every bit as entertaining as it is educational” Scientific American
“Best savored, not shot-gunned, with a drink in hand” Science
“A tirelessly researched book on the centuries-long relationship between medicine and booze” The New York Times
A Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards Top 4 Finalist!
Finalist for the Andre Simon Book Awards!
For The Ice Book (May 2023), go to the The Ice Book page.
Take a fun quiz based on the book to see what you know about the history of alcohol and medicine.
Signed Copies available, payment via Venmo to US addresses only.
Beer-based wound care, deworming with wine, whiskey for snakebites, and medicinal mixers to defeat malaria, scurvy, and plague: how today’s tipples were the tonics of old.
Alcohol and Medicine have an inextricably intertwined history, with innovations in each altering the path of the other. The story stretches back to ancient times, when beer and wine were used to provide nutrition and hydration, and were employed as solvents for healing botanicals. Over time, alchemists distilled elixirs designed to cure all diseases, monastic apothecaries developed mystical botanical liqueurs, traveling physicians concocted dubious intoxicating nostrums, and the drinks we’re familiar with today began to take form.
In turn, scientists studied fermentation and formed the germ theory of disease, and developed an understanding of elemental gases and anesthetics. Modern cocktails like the Old-Fashioned, Gimlet, and Gin and Tonic were born as delicious remedies for diseases and discomforts. In Doctors and Distillers, cocktails and spirits expert Camper English reveals how and why the contents of our medicine and liquor cabinets were, until surprisingly recently, one and the same.
“At last, a definitive guide to the medicinal origins of every bottle behind the bar! From prehistoric beer to exotic French liqueurs, a swig of alcohol has always served as tonic and treatment. With a cocktail nerd’s love of obscure ingredients and a passion for odd historical details, Camper English illuminates the murky, confounding, and even grotesque history of booze as medicine. This is the cocktail book of the year, if not the decade.” —Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist and Wicked Plants
“Mr. English has written a fascinating book that makes a brilliant historical case for what I’ve been saying all along: alcohol is good for you…okay maybe it’s not technically good for you, but he shows that through most of human history, it’s sure beat the heck out of water.” —Alton Brown, creator of Good Eats
“Camper English is the booze writer’s booze writer—the one we all turn to for true histories, unassailable facts, and clarity (of both explanation and ice). Doctors and Distillers puts his magnificent brain on full display, laying out the coiled-together histories of drinking and medicine. Every page has at least three “wait, I didn’t know that!” moments, and the bibliography will launch 1,000 magazine-article history sections. I might actually need two copies—one for my reference shelf and one for my bar.” —Adam Rogers, author of Proof: The Science of Booze and Full Spectrum: How the Science of Color Made Us Modern
“Doctors and Distillers is an eye-opening compendium of the unlikely, often dodgy, always colorful alchemical-medicinal backstories of alcohols in all their stupefying variety: it’ll bring a little something extra to whatever you sip.” —Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking and Nose Dive
- Scientific American
- “With immense wit and charm, author Camper English traces millennia to explore how civilizations used fermented and distilled beverages to do everything from hydrating the workforce to fending off the Black Death. English takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to his subject matter, resulting in wildly compelling stories, such as how Buckfast, a tonic wine created by monks to treat colds and influenza, became the 'U.K.'s version of Four Loko.' It is every bit as entertaining as it is educational.”
- Washington Post
- “A rollicking, quirky story of alcohol and medicine’s 'inextricably intertwined history,' from ancient Greek health treatises on wine to elixirs concocted by medieval monks to blood donors in Ireland receiving a pint of Guinness to American snake-oil salesmen making wildly false health claims about alcoholic tinctures, liniments and tonics to early-20th-century soda fountains where you could buy laudanum and soda spiked with cocaine."
- "best savored, not shot-gunned, with a drink in hand and among company who will not mind frequent interruptions to hear passages read aloud."
- New York Times Book Review
- "A cheerfully informative highlights tour — the literary equivalent of a bowl of tasty bar snacks to consume between sips of social history . . . English’s inclusion of previous pandemic practices gives Doctors and Distillers an extra dose of insight into human nature."
- Publishers Weekly
- "English knows his stuff, but he also knows how to have a good time."
- Alton Brown on Amazon
- "scholarship here is as remarkable, but above all, this is great storytelling that clearly reveals the histories of medicine and spirits as intertwined and inseparable."
- SF Standard
- "a fascinating book that’s far more than just a collection about boozy trivia"
- Falstaff International
- "It’s an intoxicating book, combining equal parts medicinal lore and history, and fizzing with factual oddities."
- New York Times
- "... a tirelessly researched book on the centuries-long relationship between medicine and booze that took three years to complete."
Previous talks have been hosted by Tales of the Cocktail, American Ancestors, University of Washington Health Sciences Library, Campari headquarters, the Mutter Museum, the United States Bartenders' Guild Hawaii, the California Book Club, and the Bourbon Women Book Club among others.
Please see the Event Calendar for scheduled talks and events.
- A video interview on ABC News
- SmartyPants podcast via The American Scholar
- WGN Chicago news appearance
- MedPage Today
- KCRW's Good Food podcast
- Imbibe Magazine
- WCJT News "The best medical books of 2022"
- Wisconsin Public Radio segment
- Interview on the Little Atoms podcast
- Podcast on PeerSpectrum
- press release [download doc]
- cover image [download file]
- author photo [ download file]
- contact Camper English
Please see the Talks page to hire Camper English to speak at your group function, library event, corporate party, or book club.