Alcohol and human health

Lesley Smart (ed)

Oxford: OUP/OU 2007 | Pp127 | £18.99 | ISBN 978 0 19 923735 7

Reviewed by Nigel Colenutt

book cover

This book and accompanying DVD is one of seven titles in a series written specifically for an Open University level 1 course, Introducing health sciences. The book presents a multidisciplinary account of the science behind drinking alcohol, which will be of interest to anybody wanting to know more about this widely available drug and its effects on the human body. Although not aimed at A-level chemistry or biology, the text would be a good background reader for science A-level students or first-year medical students.

The content is divided into six sections, which cover the simple chemistry of alcohol, how the human body deals with alcohol and the effects that it has on the body and our behaviour. The book assumes little previous scientific knowledge and explains bonding, formulae and moles in detail, so readers with a science background may want to skip these sections. 

The book contains many marginal notes which if collected together would form a sort of glossary. Within the text there are boxes of extension material and at the end of each chapter there is a summary, a list of learning objectives and some self-assessment questions. Further questions can be found on the DVD. Answers are supplied at the end of the book. 

The accompanying DVD is easy to use and includes molecular models of chemical structures relevant to the text, and animations of alcohol's 'journey' through the body. Videos on the DVD include interviews with undergraduates discussing their attitudes to drinking and with recovering alcoholics and staff at Alcoholics Anonymous. 

The book refers to acetaldehyde and acetic acid in preference to ethanal and enthanoic acid. Although it is explained that these are the traditional names used, I would have expected a modern book to use the internationally accepted systematic names. The book draws on reference material from all over the world and some of the data in this material are left in the units used in the country of origin, rather than converted to SI units. These are minor irritations and should not stop anybody from using this book. 

I found this a fascinating read and it will be of interest to anybody who wants to know more about alcohol and its effects, or who works with people who are using alcohol.