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Response to Review no. 419

I found Jane Desmarais’s review of my Hideous Absinthe perceptive and sensible at points, but its tone was often inappropriate to an academic review. Perhaps this is because Hideous Absinthe is, as Desmarais says, ‘not an academic book’ which inevitably leads to the question: so why review it on an academic website?

The evidence that Desmarais is wrong is that this is a book with a coherent intellectual argument: ‘the projection onto absinthe of personal and political desires [that] forms the starting point of my understanding of the drink’s history’ (p. 14). It is fully referenced, indexed and has a thorough bibliography. It is written by someone with a good track record in the field (four books of nineteenth- and twentieth-century history or biography) with appropriate qualifications. It is from a publisher (I. B. Tauris; University of Wisconsin Press in the USA) specialising in books for an academic and serious general audience.

It also has a scrupulous concern for accuracy, such that though Desmarais claims there are ‘factual errors’ the one example she mentions is only wrong in the review because she has misquoted it. Thus she says: ‘the Décadent, which Adams describes later as published between 1888 and 1890 (see p. 82) was a largely uninfluential flop, publication beginning in 1886 and ceasing in 1888.’ In fact I wrote ‘The Décadent was a literary magazine published between 1886 and 1890’ (p. 82).

To describe my research as ‘recycling detailed and founded accounts of absinthe drinking drawn from other books on the subject’ is simply inappropriate language. Desmarais appears to have overlooked the references to (on a quick count from the bibliography) primary research in more than fifty works and journals published before the end of the First World War. The fact that I have been careful to cite and reference other scholars working in the field where appropriate is merely standard academic procedure.

Overall I think the problem is the reviewer’s failure to distinguish between what she believes and what she knows. She clearly does not agree with my picture of late nineteenth-century Parisian life, and would doubtless emphasise other aspects of it, but that is a difference of opinion, not fact. She criticises me for generalisation and certainly a history which covers several countries over more than a century simply has to generalise, but I think even the longer quotations given in a not entirely positive review show how well grounded my views are in quantifiable fact.