Though sometimes repetitious, Acitelli’s confident, precise approach produces an entertaining narrative.



The stealthy rise of humble Bavarian-style pilsner as the world’s everyday beer. Acitelli, a James Beard Award finalist who has written widely about beer, wine, and whiskey, shrewdly connects the story of the quintessentially plebeian tipple to time and place, starting with early European experiments in fermentation. By 1900, he writes, “barely fifty years old, [pilsner] was the ascendant beer style and one of the bestselling alcoholic beverages ever.” In a humorously meandering narrative, the author ties pilsner’s popularity to Europe’s cycles of violence and upheaval, which spread it to America alongside immigration, even as the beer barons embraced innovation. For example, although Louis Pasteur originally intended to aid European winemakers, “Pastuerization instead proved much more popular and durable among brewers.” When backlash threatened, “brewers hardly noticed. They were in the midst of a remarkable run of growth.” Yet, temperance advocates harnessed the World War I–era anti-German hysteria to propel their agenda. The resulting Prohibition “all but killed off the American brewing industry and its favored style.” Although the large brewers roared back following the repeal of Prohibition, writes Acitelli, “it was as if [beer] had been run through a decontextualization machine.” Such watersheds as the 1935 introduction of canned beer by a smaller brewer contrasted with the dominance of the giant brewers Anheuser-Busch and Pabst, which increasingly snapped up smaller concerns, as well as competition for market share by foreign entities like Heineken. After World War II, brewers continued to pursue consolidation and new technologies even as their signature product declined in consumer cachet beginning in the 1950s. As Acitelli notes, “so many breweries…had unwittingly set themselves up to fail in the 1960s [once] the positioning of pilsner as a lifestyle choice did not work.” This would only change decades later, as better-marketed beers like Anchor Steam returned via foodie culture and the microbrew explosion. Though sometimes repetitious, Acitelli’s confident, precise approach produces an entertaining narrative.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64160-182-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.



The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A slender, highly satisfying collection.

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A dozen pieces of nonfiction from the acclaimed novelist, memoirist, and screenwriter.

In an appreciative introduction, New Yorker theater critic Hilton Als praises Didion as “a carver of words in the granite of the specific.” Stylistic precision (“Grammar is a piano I play by ear,” she writes) and the “energy and shimmer” of her prose are fully evident in this volume of previously uncollected pieces, written from 1968 to 2000. Although Didion portrays herself as a diffident, unconfident writer as a college student, she learned “a kind of ease with words” when working at Vogue, where she was assigned to write punchy, concise copy. The experience, she recalls, was “not unlike training with the Rockettes.” Several pieces were originally published in magazines, and two were introductions: one, to a volume of photography by Robert Mapplethorpe; another, to a memoir by director—and Didion’s friend—Tony Richardson. All reveal the author’s shrewd, acerbic critical eye. In “Getting Serenity,” she reports on a meeting of Gamblers Anonymous, where, she notes sardonically, one woman “adapted her mode of public address from analgesic commercials.” William Randolph Hearst’s “phantasmagoric barony,” San Simeon, “seemed to confirm the boundless promise of the place we lived,” but, she decided, was best admired from afar, like a fairy-tale castle, “floating fantastically.” Didion’s rejection from Stanford elicited an essay about college as consumption, and her skewering of consumption and artifice recur as themes—for example, in her observation of the ways women stage themselves for portrait photographs. Several particularly revealing essays focus on writing: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking,” she famously admitted, a statement often misattributed to others. Writing, for her, is “the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act.” As these pieces show, it’s also an accomplished act of seduction.

A slender, highly satisfying collection.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31848-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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