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4.6 out of 5 stars69
4.6 out of 5 stars
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Man Walks into a Pub is a social history of beer, beer drinking and the places where beer is consumed that takes us from ancient Egypt to the present day, and it’s a wonderful journey. The author, Pete Brown has a knack for keeping the reader engaged by using everyday language. So much so you could almost imagine you and he were in the pub enjoying a pint so relaxingly convincing is his prose, and his abuse of footnotes can be hilarious.
Informative, satisfying and ultimately entertaining, this book sways wildly from acerbic wit to erudite scholarliness without pausing for breath, but always tackles the serious business of telling the story of one of the most important aspects of Britain’s social history with reverence and affection.
The extent of Browns research is evident as the reader learns the beer-soaked etymology of recognisable phrases such as ‘taking him down a peg or two’, ‘enjoying the fruits of their labours scot-free’ and ‘tosse-pot’. The stories are engaging and plentiful, the book is punctuated by major events such as the two world wars, the birth of the super-brand etc. and these stories integrate wonderfully so that the reader is left with a weight of knowledge that is as broad as it is amusing – you could dine out on some of these tales for years.
If you have ever walked into a pub (be you man or woman), have any interest in beer, or just want a damn good read I urge you to read this book.
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on 22 December 2012
There are lots of books about beer, but most of them are about how it's made, or about beers (and places to drink them) that are currently on the market. This book is far more interesting, a history of we English and our beer.

Some of it will be well-known to many people, but much of it, especially how our drinking habits have changed over time and more importantly why they changed and what were the social motivators for those changes will not be familiar to many. Brown makes legislation and the economics of beer and drinking interesting, and I would recommend this book based on that alone.

But he does a lot more, skewering several sacred cows and roasting them for us: he makes sense of pub architecture and provides what I think is a very fair view of CAMRA who manage to be at the same time both champions of great beer and enemies of innovative beer; champions of the great pub and enemies of any attempt to design pubs relevant to modern lifestyles and economic circumstance.

If there is one significant problem with the book it is that its coverage of the Beer Orders and the changes resulting from them is woefully incomplete, for which I deduct one star. There is little, for example, on how pubs' supposedly free choice of "guest" beer are now limited by shady discounting tied to rent. At least some of this shadiness was apparent by 2003 when the book was first published, although its effects have become even more prevalent in the succeeding decade. But then, I write that with the benefit of hindsight. Writing the history of what has only recently happened is always tricky because you can't tell what's a significant long-term change and what's just a minor abberation that will disappear shortly. I read the first edition. There is now a second edition (published in 2010). I have made a note in my diary to look for a third edition in about 2020.
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on 17 January 2013
I was given this book as a Christmas present and dived into it in January, typically my month of abstinence. This was a mistake as the author wrote affectionately and passionately concerning beer. I have yet to find a history book that has acted as a proper page turner..until this book landed in my stocking. Every chapter held my interest and the book had just the right amount of flicking around the place to stall any potential for monotony. Pete Brown's writing is accessible and to the point. I enjoyed the humour and passion within the text and even let him get away with his own personal views that occasionally intrude upon the narrative.

In summary, I left this book with an urge to get down my local and support it. It has refuelled my passion for beer in a good way. Well done to Pete for writing such an interesting and informative book, but next time bring the footnotes into the main text!
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on 21 October 2011
This extensively researched book tells the tale of beer and it's evolution since it was first discovered to present day. With the occasional forays into discussion about why pubs look and feel the way they do and how governments have attempted to manipulate beer production and consumption, it really gives a great overview of how beer and the brewing industry changed over the centuries from "ale wives" & brewing monks of centuries ago, right through to the mega-brewers of today.

I was expecting the book to be a bit more real ale focussed, but much of the discussion of the last 25-50 years centres around the emergence of lager and the big lager brands we know today, so it's an interesting read for all beer drinkers - not just real ale fans.

The authors style makes for easy reading, but as has been mentioned in the first edition reviews - the sheer number of footnotes (apparently cut down since the 1st edition) can be rather numerous at times - although they do inject a bit of pub banter into the narrative.

If you've ever thought about beer as something more than a drink to get you plastered then this book will interest you.
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on 26 June 2011
This book is packed with fascinating information and is by and large well written, but every few paragraphs it slips into a strange sort of yobbish patois (presumably to appeal to the lowest common denominator). I am intrigued by the social history of the British pub, but I feel a bit let down by the assumption that my interest can only be engaged and maintained by tabloid style asides* and swearing. I think I can see what the author was trying to do, but his approach certainly wasn't needed for me to want to read on as the vast majority of the book is excellently researched and communicated. I sincerely hope the author has every success in his attempt to encourage the less reflective drinker to appreciate what he/she is drinking (and where, when and why), but I wonder under what circumstances this drinker would come to be reading this book in the first place. Nonetheless, a veritable mine of pub related facts. A superb book, all in all.

*As mentioned by a couple of the other reviewers.
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VINE VOICEon 11 March 2005
An excellent and entertaining history of beer drinking in the UK that contains absolutely hundreds of interesting facts. The history seems well researched and the author's style is very informal. There are chapters on the ancient Britons and the influences of the various invaders the UK has had in history, right through to the modern day mega-brands and how they came about.
Some people might find the informal style annoying but I found it made the book easier to read. One minor gripe would be the number of footnotes* as it can spoil the flow of the book slightly and most are childish comments rather than background information.
* they get everywhere!
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on 27 March 2004
As an American who is living in England and enjoys a good pint - this book was a great read. It was packed with trivia, history, culture, humour, and even though the whole book was about beer .. I never tired of reading it.
After reading the book I have a greater appreciation of the hand pumped pint and the unique atmosphere of my local - Thank you
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on 10 October 2013
Firstly Pete Brown is a great writer: very readable, amusing and insightful, you can tell he's been in print writing for many years. This book is a fascinating history and insight into not just beer in the UK (and across the world), but also our particular love for beer and the places to drink it with our friends. Every page has you discovering something new and fascinating that you didn't realise would not only be interesting, but also provide so much insight into our culture.

Connecting the little historical dots as you go along gives you a very palpable sense of discovering a hidden social history that we are all involved in but no nothing of. Yards of ale, closing time, how much we actually drink, the 'English Pub', lager and pilsner, and the ages old history of governments versus brewers, it is a fascinating book and ideal for any fan of the pub, beer and social history.
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on 18 April 2014
I love beer and I enjoy Pete Brown's books, especially Hops and Glory. But I can't help being irritated by the lazy gender stereotypes in this book e.g. beer is a man's drink, for men! And 'when your women go away, the house turns into a grimy hovel' etc. It detracts from an interesting story and undermines some of his observations eg that beer used to be a family drink, brewed in the home and enjoyed by everyone (including children!), before the industrial revolution (and Victorian ideals) increasingly took women out of public life and made pubs male-dominated spaces. He seems to enjoy this idea that 'pubs are for men' without recognising the fact that women are also pub goers and increasingly beer drinkers too. Not much excuse for this as he updated the book in 2010. But that's my only gripe - it's an otherwise enjoyable read.
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on 14 June 2015
This is a really good book. Revised and updated since the first edition, though even now it's beginning to feel a little, just a little, out of date, it's nonetheless an enjoyable oversight of the social role of beer and drinking in society, our attitudes to drinking, the media's preoccupation with alcohol abuse and successive Government's attempt to regulate behaviour whilst reaping the taxation. If this sounds dry (pun intended) don't be put off, Brown makes for a great storyteller.
His two later books, Three Sheets to the Wind, and Hops & Glory do feel rather as though they are stretching a point and that the material is being re-visited but this the original by Pete Brown is a really enjoyable read.
Highly recommended.
And I'm a tee-totaller!
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