Stephen Braun is a science writer and producer who got a nifty opportunity: He participated in a fellowship at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The topic was neurobiology, and one of the results is Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine. Buzz intersperses early speculations, common notions, and concerns about alcohol and caffeine with descriptions of the biological basis for the effects they have. The result is a scientifically responsible book that is also fun and accessible.
One review dismissed Buzz as, in essence, boring and "waffling", the kind of thing one expects from "the pro-science circuit." It's a familiar and troubling point of view. The sad truth about getting information about science is that some knowledge of science is required. And given the state of our science, that may mean accepting that the main evidence we have comes from animal studies or, heaven forfend, actually sitting still long enough to understand something reminiscent of a high-school lab.
But even a nay-sayer can agree that Buzz is well written. Compact and simply organized (Alcohol, Caffeine, Both), the book offers summaries of ideas, experiments, and biology that will have the regular user of these compounds nodding in understanding about such simple questions as "Why is alcohol's effect so variable?" to "Why do I need that first cup of coffee so badly?" Braun also discusses experiments that sought to measure people's behavior by whether they only believed they had ingested alcohol and reveals that for some people, caffeine can actually make them sleepy. In the postscript, Braun describes the roles that alcohol and caffeine played the making of his book.
For publishers trying to gauge the public's interest in accurate portrayals of scientific information, provocative sound bites like "When "Buzz" ... tries to explain GABA receptors, nighty-night," may seem confusing from a public that also claims to resent sensationalization of science. But for readers who are tired of tabloid trash about biotechnology's next killer -- or "curer" -- discovery, Buzz is a welcome tour through the current understanding of the effects of alcohol and caffeine.
If you like science, and particularly if you use alcohol and caffeine, Buzz has a hope that it realizes admirably: By learning about the scientific basis for the effects of alcohol and caffeine, users can enjoy them more effectively. If, however, science bores you, well, some caffeine during the day might make those mornings easier, and drink a lot of water before you go to sleep drunk.