Technology and Society

Book Reviews
What's New
Privacy & Individual Rights
Commerce, Security, & the Law
Net Culture, Art, & Literature
International Affairs & National Security
Ethics, Rhetoric, & Metaphysics
Science Fiction

Other Resources
Other Book Review Sites

Title: Raw Spirit
Author: Iain Banks
Publisher: Century
Copyright: 2003
ISBN: 1844131955
Pages: 368
Price: 17.99
Rating: 88%
Iain Banks is well-known in the United Kingdom as a fiction and science fiction author. He is also, as it turns out, quite the scotch whiskey aficionado. That's not such a surprise for a Scot, but Banks was quite surprised when the publisher called his agent and asked if he'd be interested in motoring around Scotland, visiting distilleries and buying scotch with money from a very reasonable expense account. The result is Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram.

The technology involved in making scotch has changed relatively little over the centuries. In fact, most of the improvements to the process involve using more modern materials when constructing the still, but there's a lot to be said for the benefits of refining a process through years of experience and observation. While Banks doesn't spend a lot of time on the process, he does bring in enough detail about the nature of the fuel used to fire the still, the nature of the water and surroundings of the distillery, and the source of the aging barrels (usually oak from the U.S.), that he gets his point across.

Raw Spirit is also part travelogue. Banks did, after all, drive around Scotland in a variety of classic and distinctive cars, so there's a fair amount of storytelling involving his past travels throughout Scotland on the main thoroughfares and what he calls great wee roads. He also introduces a number of his friends, all of whom were incredulous at his opportunity and enthusiastic about helping with his research.

Finally, there are a number of diatribes against the British government over their involvement in the Iraq invasion. They are clearly marked and can be bypassed easily if you wish, but any American readers who don't fully understand the depth of anti-war passion that exists in the U.K. and, to a lesser extent, in the U.S. would do well to read them.

Overall, Raw Spirit is a fine book that I enjoyed reading. While it isn't currently available in the U.S., anyone with an interest in scotch whiskey should order a copy from You'll have to wait a week for the book to arrive, but it's a small price to pay for such an enjoyable read.

Curtis D. Frye ( is the editor and chief reviewer of Technology and Society Book Reviews.  He is also the author of three online courses and thirteen books, including Microsoft Office Excel 2003 Step By Step and Privacy-Enhanced Business. He was formerly an analyst for The MITRE Corporation in McLean, Virginia.