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One of the better "drinking memoirs" is Susan Cheever's Note Found in a Bottle (1999), in which she talks about her life with and without alcohol and her relationship with her father, who was also an alcoholic. When I learned that her newest book was to be an examination of America's attitudes toward drinking, I knew I had to read it.
Susan Cheever's Drinking in America examines the role alcohol played in shaping the United States, from the moment the Pilgrims set foot on Cape Cod to the modern obsession with rehab clinics and coming clean. Cheever, of course, discusses the laws, social attitudes, politics, economics, and science of drinking in America. But this book is far from a boring history.
In particular I loved the way Cheever explodes our purified images of American icons, from Paul Revere to modern-day presidents. For example, did you know this?
A brew house was one of the first structures built in Plymouth, and it was soon joined by a local tavern. The Pilgrims believed beer was an unalloyed good, a "good creature of God." People who did not drink were suspect and "crank-brained." (p. 25)Umm, not your second-grade teacher's version of the uptight colonists!
Here are some other things I learned:
- Although Washington's troops were low on food and decent boots that horrible winter they spent in Valley Forge, they somehow had enough rum that the general was able to order double rations to help the men survive the cold.
- Remember Johnny Appleseed merrily planting wholesome apple trees throughout the east? Well apparently he was not planting eating apples, but cider apples. Thanks to him, even the poorest of settlers could indulge in a warming drink.
- Richard Nixon was the ultimate cheap date, known to get almost falling-down drunk on just a couple of drinks. Sometimes he'd be passed out from alcohol and unable to handle a middle-of-the-night international emergency--the only drinking president thought to have been this incapacitated.
Susan Cheever's Drinking in America is a very readable account of a sideways view of American history. You don't want to miss this one.
Published by Hachette Book Group / Twelve, 2015
Source: Review (see review policy)
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