An intelligently argued study of our country’s “passionate connection to drinking.”



A distinguished biographer and cultural historian offers a fascinating look at the place and function of alcohol throughout American history.

Cheever (E.E. Cummings: A Life, 2014, etc.) begins with a compelling premise: that “drinking and taverns have been as much a part of American life as churches and preachers, or elections and politics.” When the Pilgrims made their long and dangerous voyage to America in 1620, beer was crucial to their well-being; when it began to run out, beer became the reason why they landed in Massachusetts rather than Northern Virginia. George Washington owned and operated his own distillery. During his time as a commander of the Continental Army, he “helped his soldiers fight by getting them a little drunk,” unwittingly beginning a tradition that wedded alcohol to military endeavors that continues to this day. Alcohol—and in particular, rum—also became tied to the Colonial economy through slavery. By the end of the revolutionary era, two distinct attitudes toward tippling had emerged: that it was “a gift from God” but that its result, drunkenness, was “a curse from the devil.” While individuals began preaching temperance in the 1800s, alcoholism began to leave its ugly genetic legacy in many highly respected American families, including Cheever’s own. The anti-alcohol crusades of the 19th century led to Prohibition in the 1920s. But rather than “make the country healthy…it made them sick” while increasing the crime it was supposed to eradicate. When drink became legal again under Franklin Roosevelt, writers such as Ernest Hemingway and the author’s father, John Cheever, “made up for the generations before and after them” by drinking to excess while creating an enduring, and poisonous, link between writing and alcohol. As implicated as she is in the history of drinking in America, Cheever does not condemn it. Instead, she offers a colorful portrait of a society that, like her own family, has been indelibly shaped by its drinking habits.

An intelligently argued study of our country’s “passionate connection to drinking.”

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4555-1387-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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