Jack London's autobiographical tale, first published in 1913, of his life-long 'battle' with alcoholism makes for compelling reading. Charting his experiences with the mythical figure representing alcohol, John Barleycorn (a figure which dates back to the days of medieval Britain), London takes in his time from his first taste of alcohol (when, at 5 years of age, he was tasked by his father to fetch a pail of beer and, out of curiosity, ended up drinking much of the contents) through to his working experiences as oyster pirate, goldminer, deep-sea sealer, hobo and budding author. As ever, London writes in his style of easy-to-read, but at times lyrically poetic, prose, mixing what is essentially a tragic tale with smatterings of dark humour.
London makes a number of telling points during his tale, perhaps the most significant being his contention that the causes of alcoholism are entirely due to mental, rather than physical addictive, factors - a contention that would appear to be borne out by the continuing difficulty of identifying specific physical causes of the addiction - and that, in his case where he maintains that he was never actually an alcoholic per se, his addiction was almost exclusively caused by the social pressure (and expectation) to drink. In the book, London also creates two personae for the spectre of alcoholism, The Long Sickness and White Logic, the latter of which provides an entertainingly surreal debate with London's 'normal' self, towards the end of the book.
Given the current debate around minimum pricing of alcohol in the UK, London's educational tale provides a stark reminder of the potential dangers of alcoholism, although his particular focus on adult males as the section of society most prone to the dangers, and his plea on behalf of children and contention that women (as 'conservators of the race') will be a preventive influence against the addiction may be misplaced in the context of recent history (certainly in the UK).