An illuminating, well-paced narrative that will interest students and imbibers of the wee drap, American-style.




“America was astonishingly drunk.” So concluded just about every visitor to these shores in the early days of the republic.

Who would have thought that taking a plug from the jug could be a resonant political act? Mitenbuler, a journalist who specializes in “drinking culture,” combs the archives to turn up stories both entertaining and revealing about how bourbon came to be identified as a national drink—a process as artificial and as eagerly swallowed up as the invention of Paul Bunyan. And not just national: by Mitenbuler’s reckoning, Rebel Yell, later beloved of Keith Richard and other rockers, was a coded rejection of the nascent civil rights movement in the South. Meanwhile, other brands became popular in part thanks to deals cut with the military to place it in commissaries around the world—deals in keeping, it seems, with some of the charges of wartime profiteering that industry executives faced in the 1940s. The author can occasionally be smart-alecky (“Jack Daniel’s today is often seen as a bit downmarket, the quaff of biker bars and a prop of Guns N’ Roses band photos”), but mostly he takes his work seriously, offering up intriguing tidbits—on, for example, the makeup of George Washington’s own blend, revolutionary inasmuch as it drew on homegrown rather than imported ingredients, part of a process that “increasingly turned into a popular symbol of national unity and self-sufficiency that helped clear away rum’s whiff of colonial rule.” Mitenbuler closes with a brief account of the hipster-fueled revival of bourbon by means of Maker’s Mark, “a celebrity alongside a few other star brands,” and the rise of bespoke microdistilleries that traded in millennial notions of authenticity and locality over the values favored by boomers, “who held the quaint notion that ‘taste’ was most important.”

An illuminating, well-paced narrative that will interest students and imbibers of the wee drap, American-style.

Pub Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-01683-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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