12 December 2015

Weekend Cooking: Drinking in America by Susan Cheever

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Drinking in America by Susan CheeverAlthough I like a glass of wine with dinner and have no hesitation having a drink when the occasion calls for it, I'm a long way from being an alcoholic. What's more, as far as I know, no one in my family is addicted to alcohol (or anything else). Yet, for some reason, I have a fascination with reading about booze and its effects on individuals and society.

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.
Cheever's conversational style and eye-opening stories make this book difficult to put down. On the more serious side, she examines the role alcohol played in all our major historical events, including war, the settling of the west, the women's movement, and the writer's life. I had no idea how alcohol went from being a normal part of everyday life in the United States to being banned during Prohibition to becoming the touchy issue it is today.

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
ISBN-13: 9781455513871
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Tina 12/12/15, 7:29 AM  

That's a book for me. I also like reading about alcohol and place and shape in society. For instance, the Rum Troops were named that in the early society of Australia because the soldiers were partially paid with rum.
I will look for this one in the library and bookstore. Cheers!

rhapsodyinbooks 12/12/15, 7:31 AM  

I like this kind of book too!

bermudaonion 12/12/15, 8:17 AM  

Since we sell alcohol, I need to read this!

Vicki 12/12/15, 8:40 AM  

I don't drink at all, but this still sounds interesting. I like all the trivia you posted.

Katherine P 12/12/15, 10:21 AM  

This sounds fascinating! I love looking at history by different angles and all the stuff you mentioned is new to me. I love the idea of Nixon being such a cheap date but the being passed out is definitely a problem. Adding to my TBR.

Unknown 12/12/15, 6:44 PM  

I can reason with fascination to read books about booze and its effects on individuals and society. Especially since it sounds like you have not been around family (or anyone close) who has suffered from this dreadful addiction.

For me, however, alcohol addictions hit too close to home and leave a pungent aftertaste (pun intended). I do admire how Susan Cheevar uses this element to shed light on a serious topic. Needless to say, the book has piqued my interest!

SuziQoregon 12/13/15, 11:29 AM  

I'm really looking forward to reading Drinking in America but I'm saving it for 2016 so I can use it for the 'Country' title for What's in a Name ;-)

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