How the author’s family invented Sweet’N Low, got rich, collapsed in scandal and set him free by disinheritance.
The first and best section of this haphazard book by Cohen (Machers and Rockers, 2004, etc.) follows the rise of his grandfather, Ben Eisenstadt, born in New York in 1906 to Polish-Jewish immigrant parents. Eisenstadt supplemented his slow-going law career by opening a diner across from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It boomed with the war years, then went bust, so he opened a factory in which loose tea was packed into tea bags. Thinking the technique might be adapted to sugar, he suggested the idea to sugar companies, who thanked the naïve, patent-less inventor and started making the packets themselves. Only later did Ben and his son Marvin turn saccharin into Sweet’N Low, the sugar substitute that would take the world by storm. mob-associated guys who liked to bill the company for the construction of their mansions. Cohen’s wing of the family was disinherited after a dramatic and truly ugly fight about a will presided over by Aunt Gladys, a misanthropic shut-in who wielded frightening powers via telephone and fax. Cohen can’t quite decide what kind of book he’s writing: He offers a mini-history of sugar here, confusing family history there. But at its best, sardonically dissecting an unlikely success, it spins gold.
A cracked family saga and an ode to Brooklyn, that incubator of immigrants and ideas.