Drinking in America

by Cheever, Susan

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In Drinking in America, bestselling author Susan Cheever chronicles our national love affair with liquor, taking a long, thoughtful look at the way alcohol has changed our nation's history. This is the often-overlooked story of how alcohol has shaped American events and the American character from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. Seen through the lens of alcoholism, American history takes on a vibrancy and a tragedy missing from many earlier accounts. From the drunkenness of the Pilgrims to Prohibition hijinks, drinking has always been a cherished American custom: a way to celebrate and a way to grieve and a way to take the edge off. At many pivotal points in our history-the illegal Mayflower landing at Cape Cod, the enslavement of African Americans, the McCarthy witch hunts, and the Kennedy assassination, to name only a few-alcohol has acted as a catalyst. Some nations drink more than we do, some drink less, but no other nation has been the drunkest in the world as America was in the 1830s only to outlaw drinking entirely a hundred years later. Both a lively history and an unflinching cultural investigation, Drinking in America unveils the volatile ambivalence within one nation's tumultuous affair with alcohol.
Published Reviews
Booklist Review: "American attitudes toward boozing, Cheever says, have oscillated like a pendulum, beginning in a swing toward toping when the Pilgrims landed because they were out of beer. Swilling burgeoned beyond population growth until, in the 1820s, the U.S. was the drunkest nation on earth. Then came the reverse swing, culminating in Prohibition, the criminal bad consequences of which sent public opinion back to the bottle. Now, thanks to the effectiveness of AA and MADD, the U.S. is again censorious and legally restrictive of drinking. An accomplished novelist and biographer, Cheever tells the back-and-forth history of her subject in a stream of stories about and observations by famous people, including colonial leaders, three generations of John Adams' family, Meriwether Lewis, and Ulysses S. Grant and other Civil War figures. This is all very readable, but there should be more. The chapter covering 1866-1919 the upswing to Prohibition is only three pages long; the WCTU and Carrie Nation are barely mentioned, the influential Prohibition Party isn't mentioned at all. Such short shrifting makes the chapter on sodden mid-twentieth-century authors seem tacked on.--Olson, Ray Copyright 2015 Booklist"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review: "In this whimsical history, author Cheever (My Name Is Bill) examines four centuries of America's dysfunctional relationship with booze. Her story opens with the Pilgrims landing at Cape Cod "because they were running out of beer" and ends with the ascension of Alcoholics Anonymous. Cheever focuses on the role that giggle juice played in central events of U.S. history, including the Revolutionary War, westward expansion, the Civil War, Prohibition, and the Red Scare. She also highlights important figures in the history of drinking, including John Adams (and his family), Ethan Allen, Ulysses Grant, and her own father, John Cheever. Cheever's central observation is fascinating: "few historians even mention drinking and its effect... on events," an oversight she strives to correct. Yet some of her suppositions feel weak: that the Revolutionary War might not have happened if the colonists hadn't been such partyers; that the Civil War might have been lost if Grant's drinking hadn't been tolerated; that Kennedy might not have been assassinated if his Secret Service team hadn't been so hungover. Cheever is at her most fascinating when she sticks to facts: for example, in 1820 the average consumption of alcohol was three times what it is today, and children were sent off to elementary school fortified by "flip," a mixture of fruit juice and grain alcohol. The melting pot, it seems, was also a mixing bowl. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Additional Information
Subjects Sociology
Publisher Grand Central Publishing2015
Language English
ISBN 9781455579426