Chris Finan is the author of the books Alfred E. Smith: The Happy Warrior (Hill & Wang, 2002), From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America (Beacon Press, 2008), and Drunks: An American History (Beacon, 2017). He currently serves as Executive Director for the National Coalition Against Censorship and was previously President of American Booksellers for Free Expression. Finan received his PhD. in American History from Columbia University in 1992 and has been involved in anti-censorship efforts for the past 35 years. He lives in Brooklyn.
Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.
Actually, one of the first persons I described the book to was a bartender. I was at a reception at book convention in Minneapolis, and he wandered over before it was time to start pouring drinks to talk about my book, which was on display. He had been lucky enough to get sober in the “land of 1,000 rehabs.” I told him that my book tells the stories of the people who have led the recovery movement since the colonial period and ultimately saved his life–and mine.
What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?
All writers on the history of addiction stand on the shoulders of William L. White. So while I did research in primary sources, I’m sure they will be familiar with many of the stories. I think the main value of the book is that it provides a compact narrative of three centuries of recovery. I believe it makes a strong case for seeing the battle against addiction as one of America’s great liberation movements.
Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?
I love the stories of Benjamin Rush, John H.W. Hawkins, Leslie Keely, Jerry McAuley, the early days of A.A., and the first generation of sober drunks who did so much to help others (Marty Mann, William Swegan, Senator Harold Huges).
Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?
As someone who has been sober for a long time, I was most surprised by the emergence of the modern recovery movement following the Faces and Voices of Recovery Summit in 2001. I had heard nothing about it, and I find its progress tremendously exciting. I definitely want to read more about it.