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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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