I Drink Therefore I Am by Roger Scruton

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I Drink Therefore I Am by Roger Scruton
Buy I Drink Therefore I Am from Amazon.co.uk

Buy I Drink Therefore I Am from Amazon.com

Genre: Popular Science
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: This is a more serious book than the publisher's jacket blurb suggests and is an interesting attempt to link philosophy with wine appreciation. While the first half will appeal to the more ardent of wine buffs, the second half introduces some interesting ideas and the suggestions of what to drink while reading the great philosophy texts is a terrifically entertaining read.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: October 2009
Publisher: Continuum
ISBN: 978-1847065087

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Roger Scruton is a conservative philosopher and composer, best known for his work on philosophy and music, but who shares Plato's belief that 'nothing more excellent or valuable than wine was ever granted by the gods to man' and in this book seeks to combine his two interests of philosophy and the fruits of the vine.

If you have ever had the experience of meeting someone over a meal who at first you thought was a crashing bore but by the time the meal has ended, a few bottles of good wine later, you are of the opinion that the fellow is excellent and enthralling company, then this is one of the key attributes of wine that Scruton argues was evident in the ancient Greek symposiums but also the experience of reading this book.

Scruton is far too intelligent as a writer for this to be coincidental, but it has presented his publishers with a challenge as the book appears to change character as it goes on. Thus the jacket's promise of 'a good-humoured antidote to the pretentious clap-trap that is written about wine today' is an accurate description of only the final part of this experience, which is in fact presented as an appendix.

He begins by recognising two people influential in his own discovery of wine, which read a little like appreciative retirement speeches to the two gentlemen concerned. He then moves on to discussing in detail French wines and then more briefly other wine regions. Here Scruton's knowledge and enthusiasm are evident, but he is something of a wine 'buff' and there is plenty of wine-speak in evidence. Thus he suggests that 'the best accompaniment to a bottle of fine old white Hermitage is a clay-baked hedgehog' and if you 'roll the name Maillol in your mouth while imagining well-shaped buttocks and well-matured wine, and you won't be far from the taste of Collioure'. Not much of the promise of 'an antidote to clap-trap' evident here, then.

To be fair, there is a generosity in the spirit of his advice for finding cheaper alternatives to the most expensive wines (usually taking the form of buying from the vineyard next door to the expensive one) but these chapters will appeal only to the most ardent wine buff. This accounts for around half the book.

Of course part of the challenge of writing about wine is the conversion of one set of senses (taste, but also smell) into tangible words, although one might expect that his experience writing about music would help here. But there is a difference. I can easily find a piece of music through my computer (the same would be true of writing about art) but sadly I have not been able to find a way to download glasses of the wine he discusses and so it is more difficult to experience these joys with the author. Neither does he address the question of to what extent analysing the properties of the wine in words destroys the 'magic' of the balance that is so appealing.

In the second half, things get more interesting as he turns to philosophy and the role of wine and the implications of certain ideas to wine. Scruton is one of those writers who lets much of their character and opinion infuse his writing. He is unashamedly right wing, pro-France, anti-EU and largely un-'PC', and at times his views may cause mild offence to the more sensitive reader (the anti-fox hunting and modern Islamic views on alcohol get short shrift), albeit with some nice dry humour in parts (he suggests that the rich contribute to the well-being of the world by consuming the most expensive wines and converting it by natural processes to something that will benefit the soil).

But the greatest joy of this book is the appendix where he suggests what wines to drink with different philosophers' works. It is irreverent and funny, but at the same time, wise. This, finally, fulfills the promise of the publisher's jacket notes. I would unreservedly award this chapter a five star rating.

Praise is also due to the excellent index which is usefully split into 'subjects', 'names' and 'wines'. However, even here there is a suggestion of exaggeration - Cleopatra is indexed when her sole reference is a reference of a Burgundy whose nose is 'as distinctive as the nose of Cleopatra'.

If you are searching for an interesting gift for the wine buff in your life, this will last a lot longer than another bottle of wine.

Many thanks to Continuum Books for inviting The Bookbag to review this book.

It's been another strong year for general interest books of a philosophical bent, and you might also consider Breakfast with Socrates by Robert Rowland Smith or Alain de Botton's recent book A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary. If your interest is more towards the drinking than the philosophy, then How to Drink by Victoria Moore may be of interest, although be warned this contains some strange advice about drinking non-alcoholic drinks as well!

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