A new book claims that alcoholism has played an important and extremely negative role in human history. According to author and researcher James Graham, national leaders acting under the malign influence of this addiction have had devastating impact on world events.
His most startling claim: not only was Joseph Stalin an alcoholic, but his alcoholism caused the Soviet dictator to murder 25 million Soviet citizens
In VESSELS OF RAGE, ENGINES OF POWER: The Secret History of Alcoholism (Aculeus, 1994), Graham identifies many prominent historical figures who were addicted to alcohol including Alexander the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great and Henry VIII. Among modern Americans he names Henry Ford II, Huey Long and Joseph McCarthy. His climactic chapter on Stalin follows a carefully developed argument, backed by many examples, in favor of alcoholism as the root cause of a wide range of destructive behavior including rampant egomania, betrayal of close colleagues, malicious accusations, and serial murder.
Graham describes appalling acts committed by many powerful alcoholics,
including a New York district attorney who arranged the execution of a man he knew to be innocent. He shows that many serial killers, including Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, showed blatant signs of alcoholism and he argues, persuasively, that the psychological effects of the disease actually turned them into killers.
Graham's book gives to professional historians, medical detectives and
the general public a startling new perspective on alcoholism's role in society.
About the author: James Graham is an independent researcher and
writer based in Virginia. His first book, CANCER SELECTION: The New Theory of Evolution, published in 1992, presented his radical idea that cancer played a central role in evolution. His theory was published initially in Journal of Theoretical Biology and his book was recommended by scientist-reviewers in Nature and The American Biology Teacher. Graham's other non-fiction work has appeared in The New York Times and New York.
This is a book about human behavior at its ugliest and most frightening.
It is about the strong destroying the weak. In its pages parents rage at frightened defenseless children and other children, grown to become successful literary lions, publicly malign their innocent parents. Trusted intelligence officers betray their country's secrets and a powerful spy-catcher willfully and wrongly accuses his loyal colleagues of treachery. Political scoundrels malign exemplary public servants. Modern serial killers entice victims into lethal traps. Ancient tyrants torture
and slaughter thousands of their subjects. And one modern tyrant—Joseph
Stalin—uses his totalitarian power to malign and kill tens of millions.
Based on decades of research, James Graham takes the reader on an
eye-popping tour of human history and shows that every one of these horrific characters (and many others) was an alcoholic. He also convinces the reader that, contrary to orthodox interpretation, their addiction to alcohol actually caused the diabolical behavior.
Here are some of Graham's subjects: Ancient tyrants Alexander the Great,
Ivan the Terrible, and Henry VIII. Murderers Ted Bundy, Richard Speck, and John Wilkes Booth. Traitors Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean. Political scoundrels Joseph McCarthy, Huey Long, and Andrew Johnson. Writers Eugene O'Neill, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald
In what is surely his most provocative chapter, Graham solves the
twentieth century's most baffling mystery: Why did Joseph Stalin murder
twenty-five million loyal citizens? His claim that Stalin's alcoholism is
backed by overwhelming evidence, some of it provided by famous
eye-witnesses Nikita Khrushchev, Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill.
Certain to become one of the classics in the fields of history and
medicine, VESSELS OF RAGE, ENGINES OF POWER: The Secret History of Alcoholism convinces the reader that we have greatly under-estimated the
power of this disorder to cause catastrophic behavior in powerful individuals.
James Graham's highly original theory linking cancer and evolution was
published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology. His book-length explanation of that idea was favorably reviewed in other science journals, including Nature. Encouraged by the former Medical Director of the National Council on Alcoholism, he spent more than twenty years researching and writing VESSELS OF RAGE, ENGINES OF POWER: The Secret History of Alcoholism.
These are from just a few of the many reviews reviews:
"I found VESSELS OF RAGE, ENGINES OF POWER easy to read and it proved to
be an entertaining and informative description of alcoholism and the personality characteristics of well-known individuals who James Graham is convinced suffered from alcohol dependency. His argument for the presence of alcoholism in many historical figures is convincing, and the reader will acquire a good understanding of the symptoms of this disorder and how they influenced the lives of such notables as Joseph Stalin, Alexander the Great, Henry Ford, John Wayne Gacy and other serial killers, and many other well-known, and not so well-known, sufferers from alcoholism.
"The thrust of Graham's argument is that the personality traits frequently
found in alcoholics produce individuals who have a tremendous need for ego satisfaction, and therefore not only seek power, but also abuse it. Quite correctly, in my opinion, he emphasizes that when alcoholics stop drinking, many of their symptoms persist including, in many, the pathological need for power. Until significant changes are made in the personality, particularly the ego, many alcoholics remain severely problematic. He makes this point extremely well and illustrates it be his references to writers, artists, movie stars and selected other individuals.
"... the book will be of interest to a wide variety of readers and... one
can enjoy it as well as acquire some new knowledge. Whatever controversies
it creates are much more to its advantage than its disadvantage."
Eric W. Fine, M.D. American Journal of
"Reversing the usual question—Why do so many authors have alcohol
problems?—he argues that writing [has] particular appeal for self-centered alcoholics... Traitors, serial killers, business executives
and politicians draw similar attention... "
"Graham uses dozens of case histories to illustrate the enormous influence
of alcoholism has had on society—one far greater than previously suspected or admitted. When an individual of no particular consequence or ability suffers from the disease, it's bad enough; they affect themselves, their family, friends, co-workers, and whomever else they may encounter. But when someone of intelligence and ability, and with access to power
(whether it be as a writer, a corporation executive, a politician, etc.) the damage they can cause is much worse and every bit as likely. This book grabs readers' attention from page one and compels them to see alcohol and
the world in an entirely different way."
"Fascinating! Fascinating! A really interesting read."
Dr. Dean Edell
Nationally-Syndicated Radio Host
"Graham's examples are legion and arresting—Alexander the Great, Henry
VIII, Ivan the Terrible, the composer Beethoven, writers from Poe to Wolfe, President Grant, Admiral Byrd, Senators McCarthy and Tower, the English traitors Burgess, Maclean, Philby and Blunt, Ty Cobb, Joan Crawford,
Tallulah Bankhead, even astronaut "Buzz" Aldrin. He devotes an entire chapter to the case of Joseph Stalin who, he remarks, began his bloody purges only after he was securely in power, and did nothing for eight
successive days after Hitler's blitzkrieg began—because, Graham argues,
he was on a bender. "... his insight is arresting and provocative." Brian W. Firth Rapport
We close with this extract from the author's Preface:
Who should read this book?
Although it is, I suppose, natural for authors to proclaim, "Everyone!" there are good reasons for claiming the widest possible audience for my book. Although I have kept a number of different prospective audiences in mind as I wrote it, the book is aimed squarely at people living under the gross misconception that alcoholism is a problem that affects others—but not themselves.
In order to convince such readers that they are wildly and dangerously in error, I have assumed that the typical reader has no prior knowledge of alcoholism. I then strive to convince him or her of a single truth, the fact that makes alcoholism everyone's business: alcoholics inflict great harm on other people, in ways least suspected by the average victim. With this objective in mind, I deliberately avoid aspects of alcoholism that have already been adequately covered elsewhere. There is, for example, nothing in the book about alcoholics driving while intoxicated. This is not because I don't think they are responsible for most drunk driving fatalities (they are, and I do), but because that fact has already entered the public's consciousness.
As for the already informed, the professional specialists, and those thousands of Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon members who are self-made experts, I think they will find my approach to the subject original. They should, at the very least, find my identification of history's "missing" alcoholics enlightening.
Although the book is intended to be instructive rather than therapeutic, it may nonetheless benefit both recovering alcoholics and those who have survived the alcoholism of others. Because I am emphasizing the destructive behavior of active alcoholics, those already in recovery may find their intent to remain sober reinforced. As for the survivors of life with alcoholics, they will find that my explanations shed some light on the behavior they have witnessed and endured. Improved understanding may help to ease their pain.
Now who, exactly, am I to claim special knowledge of alcoholism? What are my credentials?
I can't resist paraphrasing that heavily-armed bandit in the film The Treasure of Sierra Madre, the swarthy fellow on horseback who, with his equally menacing underlings in tow, preposterously claimed (to the American prospectors they had every intention of robbing) that they were all really Mexican police officers. When asked by a terrified Gringo why they weren't wearing badges, the boss-bandit looked down from his saddle at his unarmed victim and snarled, "We don't need no stinking badges!"
When it comes to writing a book on alcoholism, I don't need no stinking credentials. For one thing, there aren't any. No university issues doctorates in the disease. Anyone knowledgeable in alcoholism has acquired that knowledge on his or her own. This includes physicians. Their training is notoriously deficient on the subject.
But in fairness to readers since I claim to be heavily-armed with alcoholism knowledge and understanding, I should explain how I came to know what I know.
There are two great human resources in alcoholism, two large groups of people with "front-line" experience. The first group consists of recovered alcoholics, those men and women, now sober, who can look back with clarity and honesty at their own behavior during their drinking years. Some of the most insightful books on alcoholism have come from among their ranks. The second group of "combat veterans" consists of people who have experienced—first-hand—alcoholism in others, those who were exposed to active (drinking) alcoholics at close quarters—for long periods of time. Persons who have spent hundreds or even thousands of hours in the company of those afflicted with this frightening disorder can accumulate an enormous store of knowledge. And because the disease causes heavily-patterned behavior, experience with even a single alcoholic has the potential to teach volumes about all of them.
That's how I learned about alcoholic behavior—by observing alcoholism in others.
For obvious reasons, I cannot identify the alcoholics whose behavior "taught" me much of what I now know about the disease, but I can say that I was not exposed to it as a child. Not having an alcoholic parent undoubtedly spared me much emotional pain and, perhaps, permanent psychological damage, but I suspect it also enabled me to be more emotionally detached when I began to realize that the monster had sneaked into my life.
For my luck surely did change as an adult; I have lost count of the number of alcoholics I have known. In addition to several in my domestic life, I've worked with scores of them. Working for a number of large organizations for decades, moving to different assignments in this country and abroad, I probably worked closely with thousands of people. For more than twenty-five of those years my knowledge and awareness of the disease was keen. This asset enabled me to identify as active alcoholics many close colleagues, including some of my bosses, and to watch, warily, as they acted out the patterns I describe in the text.
My amateur status actually enhanced my observation ability, for there is in alcoholism, as in physics, a Heisenberg Effect. Werner Heisenberg discovered the principle that the act of observing physical phenomena influences the target of observation. So it is with alcoholics. Professional observers cause changes in the behavior of alcoholics to such an extent that valid in vivo observation is virtually impossible—for them. If, for example, investigators were to place a dozen active alcoholics in a residential facility, provide them with lots of booze and then watch their daily activities, they would probably not see much of the behavior I describe in the following pages—and they might not see any of it. The reason for this is that alcoholics modify their behavior when they suspect scrutiny. Most of the alcoholics I observed in the workplace and other situations didn't know I had any special interest in or knowledge of the subject, so they did not greatly modify their behavior in my presence. A few of them learned of my suspicions, however, and when they did they severely altered their behavior patterns. (I describe one example in Chapter Three.) But in most cases, and for most of the time, I was able to observe alcoholics from a concealed vantage point, one not available to professionals.
Even with the advantage of my "covert" scrutiny, direct observation of alcoholism-in-action would have done me no good if I had not also learned something about the disease. I could not have known when I was encountering alcoholism-influenced behavior unless I had done some homework.
I acquired lots of information by attending meetings. I went to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings (the "open" meetings which welcome non-alcoholic's) and to Al-Anon meetings. Most of these were in large metropolitan areas and at several of them well-known alcoholism authorities were invited to lecture. Some of those specialists were especially enlightening. At one New York City meeting in the late 1960s, for example, I first heard the blasphemous assertion (by a practicing psychiatrist) that alcoholics had no more "underlying" emotional problems than non-alcoholic's.
I also talked informally to A.A.'s and to Al-Anon members, many of whom are extraordinarily well-informed about this complex problem. A.a.'s were especially helpful in answering my questions about such strange phenomena as denial, blackouts, and the difference between "dry" and "sober." Veteran Al-Anon members helped in many areas, including the matter of alcoholism's invisibility.
And I read books on alcoholism—a lot of them. I remember telling someone in the early 1970s that I had read at least 100 books on the disease. I also studied scores of pamphlets published by AA, Al-Anon, the National Council on Alcoholism, the Smithers Foundation and others. The bibliography doesn't begin to suggest the breadth of my reading in the field.
I also thought about alcoholism. I especially reflected upon the contrast between my book knowledge and my personal experience. The standard works had little to say about what I found most disturbing and baffling about this complex problem: the great and distinct damage alcoholics deliberately inflict on others. Published works on alcoholism in industry, for example, claim it causes absenteeism. Perhaps it does among blue collar workers, but the alcoholic executives I worked with seldom took a day off. The problems they created (including the arbitrary firing of competent subordinates) were far more serious than frequent absences, but this abusiveness was not even mentioned in the books I read.
It occurred to me that if guides on industrial alcoholism ignored the devastation caused by alcoholic executives, perhaps our historians have closed their eyes to alcoholics who abused political power. Of course, some well-known alcoholics do appear with regularity in the literature, but the usual suspects—Sam Houston is especially popular—are held up as inspirational examples of how even down-and-out alcoholics can overcome their addiction and live successful lives. According to the historical record, alcoholism never created a single tyrant. Based on my real-life experience, this seemed unlikely.
Exploratory visits to the biography sections of public libraries quickly convinced me that my hunch was correct. Concentrating, initially, on history's "bad boys," I soon assembled a number of famous evil-doers whose alcoholism had been missed by conventional historians. I uncovered others (Beethoven and Paine, for example) serendipitously, when I came across references to their heavy drinking while reading for my general amusement.
In gathering background on these famous over-looked alcoholics, I relied extensively on the research of others, especially biographers. This may present a minor problem for professional historians, who do not encourage reliance on secondary sources. But for this subject, I think secondary sources are actually preferable. For one thing, because I cover so much territory I could not possibly have gathered the information from primary sources even if I had mastered the historians' techniques.
There is, however, a more important reason for my claim that secondary sources are superior. Alcoholism is probably the most under-studied of all complex subjects. No accurate information on it is provided in the academic programs available to undergraduate or graduate students of history—it isn't "serious" enough. As a result, highly intelligent and well-educated individuals, who wouldn't think of writing a single paragraph about, for example, schizophrenia or cancer until they had consulted specialists in those complex diseases, will nonetheless toss off assertions about alcoholism without so much as cracking a book on it, or talking to a recovered alcoholic, or consulting a professional specialist.
So intense and pervasive is this cavalier attitude that of the scores of biographies of alcoholics I have read, I can recall only two or three in which the author seemed to possess some knowledge of the disease. All others make it implicitly clear in their texts, and in their bibliographies, that they considered it unnecessary to research alcoholism. I found myself musing that there might exist somewhere a Biographers' Academy, an institution that requires its graduates to take a Preservation of Alcoholism-Ignorance Oath—a solemn promise that, whenever they encounter exceptional drinking or even rumors of drinking in a historical personage, they were to ignore the great body of alcoholism literature available (in public, if not academic, libraries) but were nonetheless to pontificate on the matter. Things are so bad that in more than one work, the biographer confidently assures his readers that a particular individual could not possibly be an alcoholic and then presents (in some cases on the very next page!) strong evidence to support exactly the opposite conclusion. (Waite's book on Hitler and Marek's on Beethoven contain especially good examples.)
This near-universal ignorance of alcoholism actually worked to my advantage. Unwittingly acting as my collaborators, many scholars gathered solid evidence of symptoms in their subjects. Because they displayed no awareness of the alcoholism-significance of particular facts—Beethoven's bizarre changes of residence is an example—the information is particularly trustworthy. Un-intending to support the conclusion I reached (and in the case of Waite and Marek, being explicitly hostile to it), they gathered information more creditable than any that could have been assembled by an advocate of the alcoholism hypothesis. These diligent researchers, in other words, unintentionally honed a sharp edge to the axe I wield in the following pages....
Now for the organization of the book. Most chapters are heavily anecdotal (alcoholism is anecdotal), with the bits of history and biographies organized to make particular points. In Chapter One, I set forth my premise that alcoholism causes egomaniacal behavior—much of it destructive. I assemble in Chapter Two a small number of "Abusers and Accusers" (some well known, some not) to establish the disease's great power to cause heavily-patterned, harmful behavior. In Chapter Three, the reasons why most alcoholics are not recognized is discussed. In Chapter Four, I point out and explain the extraordinary occurrence of alcoholism in modern traitors. In Chapters Five and Six, I set down key symptoms of the disease. (Persons already familiar with alcoholism should at least take a cursory look at these chapters; certain behavior I identify as symptomatic has been generally ignored.) The strange matter of alcoholism's high incidence among writers (and its influence on their work) is covered in Chapter Seven and its role in homicides, especially serial murders, in Chapter Eight. In Chapter Nine, I cite a number of authorities on the disease's potential for harming children and then identify a small number of murderous sons of alcoholics. In Chapter Ten, I gather a collection of well-known contemporary and historical power-holders who were alcoholics and explain why their terrible acts were caused by the disease. Chapter Eleven is devoted to establishing Joseph Stalin's alcoholism and to claim it as the fundamental reason for his murderous reign.