Hot Best Seller

Drinking in America: Our Secret History

Availability: Ready to download

In Drinking in America, bestselling author Susan Cheever chronicles our national love affair with liquor, taking a long, thoughtful look at the way alcohol has changed our nation's history. This is the often-overlooked story of how alcohol has shaped American events and the American character from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. Seen through the lens of alcoholi In Drinking in America, bestselling author Susan Cheever chronicles our national love affair with liquor, taking a long, thoughtful look at the way alcohol has changed our nation's history. This is the often-overlooked story of how alcohol has shaped American events and the American character from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. Seen through the lens of alcoholism, American history takes on a vibrancy and a tragedy missing from many earlier accounts. From the drunkenness of the Pilgrims to Prohibition hijinks, drinking has always been a cherished American custom: a way to celebrate and a way to grieve and a way to take the edge off. At many pivotal points in our history-the illegal Mayflower landing at Cape Cod, the enslavement of African Americans, the McCarthy witch hunts, and the Kennedy assassination, to name only a few-alcohol has acted as a catalyst. Some nations drink more than we do, some drink less, but no other nation has been the drunkest in the world as America was in the 1830s only to outlaw drinking entirely a hundred years later. Both a lively history and an unflinching cultural investigation, Drinking in America unveils the volatile ambivalence within one nation's tumultuous affair with alcohol.


Compare

In Drinking in America, bestselling author Susan Cheever chronicles our national love affair with liquor, taking a long, thoughtful look at the way alcohol has changed our nation's history. This is the often-overlooked story of how alcohol has shaped American events and the American character from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. Seen through the lens of alcoholi In Drinking in America, bestselling author Susan Cheever chronicles our national love affair with liquor, taking a long, thoughtful look at the way alcohol has changed our nation's history. This is the often-overlooked story of how alcohol has shaped American events and the American character from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. Seen through the lens of alcoholism, American history takes on a vibrancy and a tragedy missing from many earlier accounts. From the drunkenness of the Pilgrims to Prohibition hijinks, drinking has always been a cherished American custom: a way to celebrate and a way to grieve and a way to take the edge off. At many pivotal points in our history-the illegal Mayflower landing at Cape Cod, the enslavement of African Americans, the McCarthy witch hunts, and the Kennedy assassination, to name only a few-alcohol has acted as a catalyst. Some nations drink more than we do, some drink less, but no other nation has been the drunkest in the world as America was in the 1830s only to outlaw drinking entirely a hundred years later. Both a lively history and an unflinching cultural investigation, Drinking in America unveils the volatile ambivalence within one nation's tumultuous affair with alcohol.

30 review for Drinking in America: Our Secret History

  1. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    There are a lot of interesting theories here, but they're mostly conjecture and extrapolated from very little real evidence. It's also sloppily written, frequently repeating the same phrases or bits of information, breaking chronology in confusing ways, and burying important information in service of Cheever's theories which are fairly clearly founded in her adherence to Alcoholics Anonymous. I really wanted to enjoy this, but I found it very difficult and I really can't recommend it. There are a lot of interesting theories here, but they're mostly conjecture and extrapolated from very little real evidence. It's also sloppily written, frequently repeating the same phrases or bits of information, breaking chronology in confusing ways, and burying important information in service of Cheever's theories which are fairly clearly founded in her adherence to Alcoholics Anonymous. I really wanted to enjoy this, but I found it very difficult and I really can't recommend it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Richard McMahon

    This is a good book, entertaining and well written. But I’m sure Susan Cheever would agree that, as a historian, her first duty is to the facts. A factual error, even if minor and not related to the central premise, creates a red flag, and is apt to make the reader view the rest of the work with suspicion. Unfortunately, Ms. Cheever makes several. Early in the book, in referring to Benedict Arnold’s treason, she writes that it occurred “a few years after Ticonderoga, after the surrender at Yorkto This is a good book, entertaining and well written. But I’m sure Susan Cheever would agree that, as a historian, her first duty is to the facts. A factual error, even if minor and not related to the central premise, creates a red flag, and is apt to make the reader view the rest of the work with suspicion. Unfortunately, Ms. Cheever makes several. Early in the book, in referring to Benedict Arnold’s treason, she writes that it occurred “a few years after Ticonderoga, after the surrender at Yorktown.” Actually, it happened in September 1780, more than a year before Yorktown. Later, she gives credit to Ethan Allen for transporting the cannon captured at Fort Ticonderoga to Boston in time for the Battle of Bunker Hill. It was Henry Knox, Washington’s chief of artillery, who did so in December 1775. Ethan Allen had been captured by the British almost 3 months earlier, and remained a prisoner until 1778. Two small knit picks: the author claims that George Washington “favored imported port,” while most historians give that distinction to Madeira, and she reports that he spent his final years on his estates “sitting on the veranda drinking with friends while looking out over the city that had already been named after him.” It’s a nice thought, but Mount Vernon is 18 miles from Washington, D. C. That distance, plus a long bend in the Potomac River, make it impossible.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bandit

    I love thematic histories. There is just something really awesome about having a cohesive thread connecting the individual stories/eras, etc. This is my second thematic history of US and the first good one, the other one connected through guns, which is arguably just as American. Or not. At least not according to this book, which makes drinking seem more American than guns, baseball and peanut butter together. Cheever, who has an impressive pedigree as both writer and drinker, starts with the pi I love thematic histories. There is just something really awesome about having a cohesive thread connecting the individual stories/eras, etc. This is my second thematic history of US and the first good one, the other one connected through guns, which is arguably just as American. Or not. At least not according to this book, which makes drinking seem more American than guns, baseball and peanut butter together. Cheever, who has an impressive pedigree as both writer and drinker, starts with the pilgrims (too drunk to land in a proper place) and continues onto the modern times, ending around Nixon's presidency. She posits at least twice in the book that histories are written with a certain bias and ones that attempt objectivity don't work as well and sure enough, this is a biased history, but a very interesting and compelling one at that. In this exhaustively researched (with monumental bibliography lost to prove it) book she demonstrates just how much the nation's history has been affected through its movers and shakers' passionate and torrid love affair with alcohol. Fascinating read, definitely thought provoking, not to mention quite educational. Cheever's personality comes across throughout the pages as intelligent, highly opinionated and definitely comfortable about plumbing her own life and that of her also alcoholic also writer father. And sure enough, she's also authored a book about cheating, sexual desire and addiction, where she uses herself as an example as well. Well, then one draws from experience, it's an essential ingredient to subjective (i.e. superior) histories. Anyway...point is books (in theory) should broaden our understanding of the world and after reading this one, you won't view US history the same way again and as such, it's a success. And a good read to boot. Thanks Netgalley.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Karla

    Cheever definitely has a bias and a narrow focus, based on her family and personal history, and her upfrontedness about it helps the reader keep things in perspective. There were moments where I thought, "Well, you could look at it this way....OR another way," but Cheever's slant that nearly everything momentous in American history was done through the bottom of a glass got a bit wearisome after awhile. One could also surmise that a lot of things were done in a certain way because the actors inv Cheever definitely has a bias and a narrow focus, based on her family and personal history, and her upfrontedness about it helps the reader keep things in perspective. There were moments where I thought, "Well, you could look at it this way....OR another way," but Cheever's slant that nearly everything momentous in American history was done through the bottom of a glass got a bit wearisome after awhile. One could also surmise that a lot of things were done in a certain way because the actors involved were constipated from a meat/bread/cheese diet and therefore not thinking calmly with a clean colon. Thinking outside the box here.... So it was definitely a subjective history, and I agree with Cheever that there is no such thing as objective history, and the ability to be 100% objective is in itself subjective. Historical events and people don't act in a vacuum and it's impossible to present it as such. She was very convincing in her presentation, however. The Pilgrims made landing far north than planned because they were running out of beer. The harsh climate they found themselves in no doubt had an effect on the settlement character and any actions they made with rippling repercussions through American history. Reading about authors tends to bore me, but Cheever naturally focuses on it because it's of personal interest. However, I did find it interesting that the author profession was pretty dry in the 19th century aside from Poe, and then it ramped up to liver-crushing proportions after Prohibition and through the post-WWII years. Oddly enough, Cheever doesn't really tie in the undeniable psychological damage from the Great War with the hedonistic embrace of alcohol. She seems to make America be the exception to the rest of the planet when it comes to booze, but one could argue that Weimar Germany had just as many problems with substance abuse in the same time period. But Cheever's thesis is that it's a uniquely American disease and phenomenon, and so she doesn't stray outside the borders for any meaningful compare and contrast. I don't know if her assertions are anything you can take to the bank, but for a leisurely cultural history with some anecdotes and facts, it was agreeable enough and short enough so that it didn't overstay its welcome too much.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Cathie

    This was more about alcoholics than about America's secret history about drinking in America. Of course the only chapter I appreciated was The Writer's Vice. This was more about alcoholics than about America's secret history about drinking in America. Of course the only chapter I appreciated was The Writer's Vice.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    This book is just awful. The author is relentless in attributing alcohol to every part of our history. Apparently our forefathers were a bunch of inebriated sots. The way she describes the American Revolution and the influence of alcohol on it, it's a wonder that we aren't still singing "G-d Save the Queen". I gave this book 3 chapters and gave up. She has a clear agenda and it colors her POV. It would also be nice if she could put a coherent sentence together. Some of her sentences are just a j This book is just awful. The author is relentless in attributing alcohol to every part of our history. Apparently our forefathers were a bunch of inebriated sots. The way she describes the American Revolution and the influence of alcohol on it, it's a wonder that we aren't still singing "G-d Save the Queen". I gave this book 3 chapters and gave up. She has a clear agenda and it colors her POV. It would also be nice if she could put a coherent sentence together. Some of her sentences are just a jumbled mess. I think I'll get my history from real historians from now on.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nick Guzan

    Interesting and concise history of America's boozy past, filled with fascinating stories and anecdotes that propel this brisk book along from the Mayflower landing to today. Who knew the U.S. was at its most drunken during the colonial era and the Revolution? Susan Cheever explores the fascinating mindset of these oldest of American imbibers who saw alcohol as a gift from god but believed drunkenness to be submitting to the devil! "Each small town started with a saloon and ended with a schoolhou Interesting and concise history of America's boozy past, filled with fascinating stories and anecdotes that propel this brisk book along from the Mayflower landing to today. Who knew the U.S. was at its most drunken during the colonial era and the Revolution? Susan Cheever explores the fascinating mindset of these oldest of American imbibers who saw alcohol as a gift from god but believed drunkenness to be submitting to the devil! "Each small town started with a saloon and ended with a schoolhouse," Cheever notes in a chapter of American expansion across the west, echoing the story of the country's own formation. Cheever also interestingly connects her own famous literary family's alcoholism to American dynasties like the Adamses, lending a valuable personal connection to the material. In fact, it is the chapter on the Adams family that simultaneously - and with miraculous success - provides history lessons while also providing the informative context of the effects of alcoholism in a family. I liked the tone as part-social commentary and part-history book (with an eye toward debunking myths... or at least recasting them through the boozy lens of truth.) Recommended especially for fans of the quirkier bits of U.S. history who are looking for a quick read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Given my background as an addictions counselor and child of an alcoholic family this book resonated with me deeply. When you think about it - how could alcohol NOT be a part of US history and have an impact on key decisions and events over time. It is simply not possible.Alcohol is everywhere in our society and always has been and to think that our leaders at any given moment have not been affected by it in someway is pure lunacy. This book truly made me think more deeply again about the true natu Given my background as an addictions counselor and child of an alcoholic family this book resonated with me deeply. When you think about it - how could alcohol NOT be a part of US history and have an impact on key decisions and events over time. It is simply not possible.Alcohol is everywhere in our society and always has been and to think that our leaders at any given moment have not been affected by it in someway is pure lunacy. This book truly made me think more deeply again about the true nature of addiction and its impact on US society and the world.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    It was certainly engaging, but the evidence to support her theories were dubious. Also, I found a number of fact errors--Ulysses S. Grant was not 5-foot-2--sprinkled throughout which further eroded my trust in her.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Erin Cataldi

    I LOVED this book! I'm a huge fan of micro-histories, and while this subject is a little broad it all come back to the booze. Soo intriguing! Author, Susan Cheever, does a brilliant job of cataloging many of the incidents that helped make America great and then launches in to how booze played a part. Trust me, a big part. Why did the pilgrims land at Plymouth? Because they were running out of beer and didn't think they could make it to the land they were actually granted. Why did everyone really I LOVED this book! I'm a huge fan of micro-histories, and while this subject is a little broad it all come back to the booze. Soo intriguing! Author, Susan Cheever, does a brilliant job of cataloging many of the incidents that helped make America great and then launches in to how booze played a part. Trust me, a big part. Why did the pilgrims land at Plymouth? Because they were running out of beer and didn't think they could make it to the land they were actually granted. Why did everyone really love Johnny Appleseed? Because the nasty apple trees he planted weren't good for eating but WERE good for turning into cider. How much did soldiers drink in the American Revolution and the Civil War? Triple what you thought, maybe more. How did booze play a part in President KEnnedy's assassination? His security detail had partied hard the night before and were too hungover to react quickly. My view of American history is forever altered. Booze has been present every step of our country's way and it is NEVER mentioned (unless it's about the prohibition). Cheever talks about how laws have changed as is how we define drunkenness. In the eighteenth century this little diddy helped define who was drunk: "Not drunk is he who from the floor, / Can rise again and still drink more, / But drunk is he who prostrate lies, / Without the power to drink or rise." I doubt that version of sobriety would pass today. In fact during the 1820's Americans were drinking TRIPLE what we consume today!! Crazy! Cheever doesn't condone drinking but she does a great job of illustrating the negative AND positive effects booze has had on our country. A fascinating book!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Coral

    If this book were a person, I’d say they were a drunk. It’s repetitive, sloppily written in places, poorly organized, and has more than a few factual errors. It starts off fun but becomes more and more annoying as it goes on. I’ll give credit to Cheevers for stating her bias openly in the beginning: she is a recovering alcoholic from a family of alcoholics. However, especially as a historian, stating your bias doesn’t absolve you from the responsibility of thorough research and being as objectiv If this book were a person, I’d say they were a drunk. It’s repetitive, sloppily written in places, poorly organized, and has more than a few factual errors. It starts off fun but becomes more and more annoying as it goes on. I’ll give credit to Cheevers for stating her bias openly in the beginning: she is a recovering alcoholic from a family of alcoholics. However, especially as a historian, stating your bias doesn’t absolve you from the responsibility of thorough research and being as objective as possible when presenting the facts. This book felt like nothing more than a way for Cheever to user her oftentimes loose interpretation of history to preach about the evils of drink. This had so much promise and ended up being very disappointing.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    I was expecting a transcendent history like Last Call, but this is popular scandal--nothing new here about taverns in the Revolution, Johnny Appleseed and cider, alcoholism in the Adams family, just an assembly of stories without the so what. I especially wanted some analysis of the Mad Men Era of multi-martini lunches as business status, but got anecdotes about Joe McCarthy as a mean drunk.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    While some of the history is quite interesting there is more opinion than I had hoped for. By the end the author is clearly biased against drinking. I would have preferred more history and less opinion.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Etienne

    2,5/5. Not a great book. It had some moments, some interesting facts and stats, but overall this is mostly assumptions and opinions. It was also all over the place in the organization, we skip time, we get back, we cool go back and forth 200 years in two paragraphs so at time it became quite confusing to understand what was the author point and where she was going with it. I also think it was maybe too politically driven, which politician drinking for various time period. I would have like it to 2,5/5. Not a great book. It had some moments, some interesting facts and stats, but overall this is mostly assumptions and opinions. It was also all over the place in the organization, we skip time, we get back, we cool go back and forth 200 years in two paragraphs so at time it became quite confusing to understand what was the author point and where she was going with it. I also think it was maybe too politically driven, which politician drinking for various time period. I would have like it to be more cultural, how we market alcohol to make it so tentative, how to industry publicize, brand, through the years and period. I learn a couple of think so I guess it wasn't a complete waste of time, but it wasn't the book I thought and wanted it to be!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Keeley

    This survey of the effects of alcohol on American history is rambling and inconsistent. Cheever sees alcohol as simultaneously a catalyst of momentous events, like the American Revolution or Grant's Civil War success, and of great failures, like Nixon's paranoid belligerence or the failure of Secret Service agents to protect JFK. At the same time, she blithely ignores the contributions of non-drinkers to these same events (case in point, Alexander Hamilton, whom she detests for some reason). She This survey of the effects of alcohol on American history is rambling and inconsistent. Cheever sees alcohol as simultaneously a catalyst of momentous events, like the American Revolution or Grant's Civil War success, and of great failures, like Nixon's paranoid belligerence or the failure of Secret Service agents to protect JFK. At the same time, she blithely ignores the contributions of non-drinkers to these same events (case in point, Alexander Hamilton, whom she detests for some reason). She claims that alcoholism in writers was a unique affliction for Americans in the decades after Prohibition and World War II, while ignoring figures who do not fit into those categories, such as Kingsley Amis, Dylan Thomas, or De Quincey. Clearly, the reason for her myopic focus on this era of American writers is the fact that -- as she reminds us multiple times in the book -- her father was an alcoholic American writer in that time period. Perhaps his name explains how she got this slurry published.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Armand

    This is an interesting thematic historical work, it reverberates on two themes; America is an alcoholic wonderland where great dreams and visions are conjured up by wild-eyed, drunken dreamers who could conquer the stars if they were only sober; and America is a dystopian hell of ruin, decay and moral rot, due to the terrible evils of demon alcohol. Sample passage: George Washington, a wealthy Virginia aristocrat who loved parties and fox hunting, found out about the connection between drinking This is an interesting thematic historical work, it reverberates on two themes; America is an alcoholic wonderland where great dreams and visions are conjured up by wild-eyed, drunken dreamers who could conquer the stars if they were only sober; and America is a dystopian hell of ruin, decay and moral rot, due to the terrible evils of demon alcohol. Sample passage: George Washington, a wealthy Virginia aristocrat who loved parties and fox hunting, found out about the connection between drinking and voting for the American electorate the hard way. A rigorous military commander who drove his soldiers hard and expected much of them, he began to aspire to a government position after he did not get a command in the British military. While seeking a seat in the Virginia Assembly in 1755, he was roundly defeated. Two years later he ran again, but this time he delivered 144 gallons of rum punch cider and wine to the polling places distributed by election volunteers who urged the voters to drink up. At 307 votes, he got a return on his investment of almost two votes per gallon. Most elections featured vats and barrels of free liquor as well as the candidate in hand to drink along with his constituency. Candidates showed off their generosity as well as their drinking capacity. Although voting while intoxicated was normal for the colonists, French traveler Ferdinand Bayard was horrified to notice, "Candidates offer drunkenness openly to anyone who is willing to give them his vote". Not only did I want to read and complete this book, I wanted to love it. The subject matter and genre fascinate me. But this book, in its dry, polemic and acerbic stiffness, make that impossible. If your looking for a fun, leisurely romp through the history of drinking in America, boy, did you come to the wrong place! This book will knock you out cold like a fifth of well whiskey and leave you with a bad hangover.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bill Hough

    This book is poorly researched and full of historical errors. The first sentence says that the Pilgrims landed at Cape Cod because they were out of beer. That piece of fiction is carried on throughout the first chapter. They landed where they landed because it was the first land they encountered. They were not a bunch of drunkards. The legend that it was because the ship was out of beer was originated in a 1908 magazine advertisement by Budweiser as part of a campaign against prohibition that in This book is poorly researched and full of historical errors. The first sentence says that the Pilgrims landed at Cape Cod because they were out of beer. That piece of fiction is carried on throughout the first chapter. They landed where they landed because it was the first land they encountered. They were not a bunch of drunkards. The legend that it was because the ship was out of beer was originated in a 1908 magazine advertisement by Budweiser as part of a campaign against prohibition that included several made-up or at least distorted stories about beer in American history. You can find a discussion of this ad campaign at the Library of Congress web site, https://www.loc.gov/rr/news/topics/br... , and specifically at http://www.joesixpack.net/columnArchi.... Might be a fun read, but it is certainly not an accurate history.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Eileen E Cartwright

    Great disappointment This book was a great disappointment. I am glad it was free and I paid nothing for it. If a book claims to be some kind of history, I expect that the author has made some kind of effort to present history accurately. From the beginning, the author stated many historical inaccuracies. And in the latter part of the book, it became evident she was presenting as historical facts things that she THOUGHT might be true just to prove her points. It was also clear that she used people Great disappointment This book was a great disappointment. I am glad it was free and I paid nothing for it. If a book claims to be some kind of history, I expect that the author has made some kind of effort to present history accurately. From the beginning, the author stated many historical inaccuracies. And in the latter part of the book, it became evident she was presenting as historical facts things that she THOUGHT might be true just to prove her points. It was also clear that she used people she just did not like as examples of drunks. She totally lost me when she blamed the Iraq war on Pres. Bush's drinking. I thought that war was a mistake but really? He had quit drinking long before that. What ever this book is, it is not history.

  19. 4 out of 5

    David

    Fascinating look at history through the lens of our relationship to alcohol. Learned all sorts of new stuff, which tells me that the project of taking this view was a good idea. Got a bit repetitive here and there, but that was easy to forgive, when I was getting so much new information and getting a novel perspective on our history at the same time. I am not sure which was more interesting, the overall picture of our on-again, off-again national relationship with booze, or the many stories and Fascinating look at history through the lens of our relationship to alcohol. Learned all sorts of new stuff, which tells me that the project of taking this view was a good idea. Got a bit repetitive here and there, but that was easy to forgive, when I was getting so much new information and getting a novel perspective on our history at the same time. I am not sure which was more interesting, the overall picture of our on-again, off-again national relationship with booze, or the many stories and facts that illustrate the different episodes, but in any case I am very glad I read the book, it was provocative and fun, two of my favorite things. Definitely recommended reading.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rayfes Mondal

    A bunch of incredible stories, many of which are not commonly known, are told in this well researched book. There doesn't seem to be a bias towards positive vs negative effects of alcohol but it seems like the negative effects are more numerous particularly in modern times (the Kennedy assassination and drunk Nixon). A bunch of incredible stories, many of which are not commonly known, are told in this well researched book. There doesn't seem to be a bias towards positive vs negative effects of alcohol but it seems like the negative effects are more numerous particularly in modern times (the Kennedy assassination and drunk Nixon).

  21. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    I’m fully prepared to buy Cheever’s premise that alcoholism has been a foundational cultural force in the US, but her argument is undermined here by poor editing. While there is some interesting and well-written material here, this book unfortunately reads like a draft.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I tried. I really tried. This book is just not what it advertises itself to be. I have to say, this book was highly misleading in its premise. First of all, Susan takes some big leaps and bounds in her theories. While she sheds light on some important aspects of American history (like the use of apples as a fermented fruit for alcoholic beverages when talking about Johnny Appleseed, talking about the importance of pubs for political meetings at the inception of the American Revolution, etc.), sh I tried. I really tried. This book is just not what it advertises itself to be. I have to say, this book was highly misleading in its premise. First of all, Susan takes some big leaps and bounds in her theories. While she sheds light on some important aspects of American history (like the use of apples as a fermented fruit for alcoholic beverages when talking about Johnny Appleseed, talking about the importance of pubs for political meetings at the inception of the American Revolution, etc.), she also takes HUGE leaps in logic and theory when talking about events. I'm sure there is truth to some of her theories, but placing complete and total blame for the Kennedy assassination on the Secret Service men's extreme hangovers in Dallas that day is a bit rich. What's even more interesting is her impressions that the outcome of the Civil War may have hinged on the replacement of George McClellan with Ulysses S. Grant, not for the purposes of strategy, but simply because of his alcoholic ways and what basically comes down to endless energy and impulsivity rather than McClellan's teetotaling lifestyle. She has some credence to her claim in pairing the temperance and women's rights movements in the same boat, yet she almost seems to claim that women's issues would not have otherwise come around without the presence of teetotaling the line (yes, I'm being facetious). While she approached the topic of Prohibition as the idea of the Noble Experiment, she seems to argue for a resurgence in similar policies of temperance. Her conclusions in the book are that "secondhand drinking is similar to that of secondhand smoke" in its effects across systems, which is completely untrue on a broad scale when analyzing the impact of drinking on society as a whole. On a microsystemic level, alcoholism is truly problematic; it shatters lives, traumatizes children and family members, and has significant financial, emotional, and physical repercussions for all involved with the identified alcoholic. It also has macrosystemic impacts in the cost to society with the health effects and dangers posed to society by drunk drivers and other dangerous alcohol-related incidents (you do have me there, Cheever). However, there are millions more who do not have a problem with drinking. To liken the health effects of consuming alcohol with the likes of lung cancer (which happens in the extreme cases with alcoholism and the liver) and second-hand smoke is truly unfair and untrue. Prohibition itself is the example by which mass restrictions on alcohol only promote its problematic use. Smoking has gone down because public health campaigns have acted to educate and highly regulate sales of cigarettes and tobacco products. I will always agree that drunk driving is a SERIOUS problem and completely unacceptable, and I am all for regulation of this behavior to promote extinction. However, I cannot get behind an author that bases the fundamental turning points of American history on drinking to the point of making an argument for temperance. While I won't deny it's impact across events and across history, I'm also not a conspiracy theorist in making huge leaps of faith in logic and facts. I give this book two stars (instead of one) because I liked her chronological layout of history, and she did teach me a few things about historical figures and events that were new to me (and yes, generally accurate). Despite this, it wasn't enough to overcome the ridiculousness of her speculations. I felt like Cheever swindled me with a title that felt like it was going to give me an entertaining and educational look into American history, and instead, I got sideswiped by a grand attempt at selling me on an unrealistic idea. Better luck next time.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tom Darrow

    The hallmarks of this book are lazy scholarship, poor writing, basic historical errors and a clear anti-drinking bias. The vast majority of the works she cites are from other scholars who have already written on the subject of drinking in America. I'd say less than a quarter of her source material comes from her own research into primary sources. I kind of wish I had read some of those other books. She makes broad generalizations, like "every farmer had a bottle at the end of each row in their fi The hallmarks of this book are lazy scholarship, poor writing, basic historical errors and a clear anti-drinking bias. The vast majority of the works she cites are from other scholars who have already written on the subject of drinking in America. I'd say less than a quarter of her source material comes from her own research into primary sources. I kind of wish I had read some of those other books. She makes broad generalizations, like "every farmer had a bottle at the end of each row in their field" but provides no evidence to prove it. She also suggests that American independence was formulated by people talking in taverns, but doesn't provide a lot of specific evidence of this. Her writing is also very repetitive and inconsistent. She makes the aforementioned statement about the farmers about eight times throughout the book. The chapters also vary greatly in tone and subject. Some are somewhat in depth character studies into specific alcoholics, while other chapters contain broad sweeping generalizations about certain time periods. The subtitle of the book ("Our secret history") also suggests that much of this drinking is done in private, but she contradicts that in numerous places where she says that everyone in the US drank and that there was three times more drinking back in the day than there is now. There is also a big buildup to the temperance movement and prohibition, but she doesn't really talk about its actual origins. There are also many basic historical errors. In the chapter on the American Revolution alone, there are at least three major errors, among which are times where she says that the British troops marched to Lexington, which was north of Boston (Lexington is to the west), and that Benedict Arnold betrayed the Americans AFTER the battle of Yorktown. If she was any kind of historian, or had a proper editor, they would have identified and corrected those mistakes. Finally, her anti-drinking bias is very clear. She comes right out in the intro and says she is a recovering alcoholic and that her father was as well, so the bias is clear from the start, but it does impact the way she writes about things. Basically, all of the negative things that happened in the US from the tough times the Pilgrims had to the Kennedy assassination are as a result of drinking. I did learn a few things about American history from this book, which is why I gave it two stars instead of one, but if you want to read a good topical history book, I would suggest reading the work of Mark Kurlansky instead.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Disappointing to say the least. About a third of the way in I started to tire of Ms. Cheever’s unsubstantiated theories, but was at least entertained. I lost patience soon after. Cheever blames all mistakes and flaws on alcohol, as well as successes. Basically, everything ties back to alcohol. First, for someone who identifies herself as an alcoholic, her tone when describing alcoholics was extremely judgmental. Secondly, some of the inaccuracies in this book are frankly...confusing. As another Disappointing to say the least. About a third of the way in I started to tire of Ms. Cheever’s unsubstantiated theories, but was at least entertained. I lost patience soon after. Cheever blames all mistakes and flaws on alcohol, as well as successes. Basically, everything ties back to alcohol. First, for someone who identifies herself as an alcoholic, her tone when describing alcoholics was extremely judgmental. Secondly, some of the inaccuracies in this book are frankly...confusing. As another reviewer has pointed out, Ulysses Grant was not 5’2”, but 5’8”. She describes Wayne Wheeler, president of the Anti-Saloon League as a “bulky muscle man” despite the fact that a quick search and glance at the many photos available of Wheeler show a fairly diminutive nerd. She claims “conservatives” made up the anti-immigration faction of the temperance movement, although concern about the scourge of heavy-drinking immigrants was a well-documented talking point among paternalistic Progressives. She calls the Cold War years a “...grotesque panic about an imaginary enemy [Communism]...”. Then later ignores the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald was an avowed communist and instead implies that it was conservatives in Dallas that posed a danger to JFK. An editor was sorely needed to help clean up sloppiness. At one point, she uses a novel as a source to describe the life of Johnny Appleseed. She implies Warren Harding died from alcohol withdrawal, then admits it was medically unlikely. Senator McCarthy is called “one of the first celebrities.” Huh? She quotes John Adams lamenting his son’s “alcoholism”, then 4 pages later says the term didn’t exist until the mid-nineteenth century. Repetitiveness and jarring grammatical issues also exist throughout the book. I wouldn’t normally write such a long negative review, but the bias and inaccuracies in this book left me extremely frustrated. Don’t read this one. Pick up Okrent’s “Last Call” instead.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chris Wilson

    I thought I knew what I was getting into when I cracked this book open, pun intended, but I was wrong in the best possible way. Susan Cheever has delivered a must read for those interested in all the ways that alcohol has formed and shaped America, from Pilgrims to Prohibition, to the Present. One of the points made by Cheever, as the book comes to a close, is how often the role of alcohol is glossed over or explained away in most history books. She had proven this true throughout the book as fam I thought I knew what I was getting into when I cracked this book open, pun intended, but I was wrong in the best possible way. Susan Cheever has delivered a must read for those interested in all the ways that alcohol has formed and shaped America, from Pilgrims to Prohibition, to the Present. One of the points made by Cheever, as the book comes to a close, is how often the role of alcohol is glossed over or explained away in most history books. She had proven this true throughout the book as familiar historical events were illuminated further by the amber tinged liquid flowing just beneath the surface. Most compelling of all was the role drinking played in the assassination of both Lincoln and JFK. Lincoln’s bodyguard was at a tavern next to Ford’s Theater when Booth, also drunk, got into the President’s box and fired that one fateful shot. Also, I had no idea that so many of JFK’s detail for the Dallas motorcade were out drinking until 2 AM - 5 AM. Throughout the book Cheever deals with alcohol, alcoholism, and the aftermath of addiction with honesty that comes from belonging to a family of alcoholics. Nothing about the role of alcohol in the formation of America, it’s spirit and character, is romanticized. Rather the costs of courting alcohol and its inevitable damage when abused are laid over against the “good” that was done by its devilish power. If you enjoy history and especially history from a different perspective then I heartily recommend this book!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Patrick McGrady

    I found this book to be incredibly interesting. I guess I assumed alcohol played a part in our nation's history but I underestimated just how hammered everyone was for a couple hundred years. It was also interesting to read about how society treated alcohol when so very little was know about it and it's long term affects. I typically tend to find nonfiction fixated on a very specific aspect tedious, but this book moved quick enough while giving great facts and tidbits. Some of the points seemed l I found this book to be incredibly interesting. I guess I assumed alcohol played a part in our nation's history but I underestimated just how hammered everyone was for a couple hundred years. It was also interesting to read about how society treated alcohol when so very little was know about it and it's long term affects. I typically tend to find nonfiction fixated on a very specific aspect tedious, but this book moved quick enough while giving great facts and tidbits. Some of the points seemed like conjecture and/or circumstantial and I am not sure I buy 100% of this book. If nothing else, I now have some interesting dinner party facts about who got so drunk they fell off their horse and hurt their foot during the civil war or who needed a "sober coach" (someone to babysit them and make sure they didn't drink) - - who was ultimately unsuccessful in that attempt. Spoiler alert - Those were both Ulysses S. Grant... In a book about the drunkest historical figures in USA history, Grant made a bid for the MVP. However, he was ultimately very successful; one of the most influential civil war generals and later became the president of the entire country. Despite his heinous and atrocious behavior, which no one would support, he was wildly successful and appreciated. Ulysses S. Grant was the Michael Jackson of United States history. Both had their fair share of questionable actions... but who didn't love Thriller?

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    In her conclusion, the author draws a distinction between this book and "objective" historians like McCullough, etc; her thought is that being objective is in itself a subjective decision, since the subjectivity of the period is part of the history. But I'm a reader who likes objective history ... one of my biggest reading turn-offs is when the historian inserts themselves into the work, or their "history" is actually part memoir. Drinking in America isn't *that* bad, but this is definitely a pe In her conclusion, the author draws a distinction between this book and "objective" historians like McCullough, etc; her thought is that being objective is in itself a subjective decision, since the subjectivity of the period is part of the history. But I'm a reader who likes objective history ... one of my biggest reading turn-offs is when the historian inserts themselves into the work, or their "history" is actually part memoir. Drinking in America isn't *that* bad, but this is definitely a personal subject for the author, and there's no lack of her dropping in her own anecdotes or examples from her family's experiences. It helps that her father is John Cheever, but still. It also doesn't help that there are a lot of interesting theories here, but I just don't know how many of them are true, or true to the extent that we're supposed to believe they are. The final conclusion of several of the chapters seems to be "there isn't a historical record to back this up, but we know that people in (insert time/place) drank a lot, so therefore drinking resulted in (insert historical event or trend)." There are also some outright errors or omissions, which make me even more hesitant to buy into the author's conclusions. Not a bad history, and certainly a quick and engaging read, but I'd say this is a good starting point from which to read further, rather than being a good reference on its own.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Timothy

    A propose a toast The Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock instead of sailing farther south to winter over due to a shortage of beer. The flames of the American Revolution were fanned at The Green Dragon Tavern in Boston, meeting place of The Sons of the Liberty, including the protests leading to the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party. The Battle in Lexington Green was little more than a drunken skirmish. Ethan Allen took Fort Ticonderoga with the help of a little “liquid courage”. George Washing A propose a toast The Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock instead of sailing farther south to winter over due to a shortage of beer. The flames of the American Revolution were fanned at The Green Dragon Tavern in Boston, meeting place of The Sons of the Liberty, including the protests leading to the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party. The Battle in Lexington Green was little more than a drunken skirmish. Ethan Allen took Fort Ticonderoga with the help of a little “liquid courage”. George Washington learned early in his political career that the level of political success paralleled the amount of alcohol you provided your constituents. The Adams Family struggled with alcoholism. John and Abigail lost two sons to Alcoholism. The first real test of federal power was when Pennsylvania Farmers launched an armed rebellion against the Federal Government due to taxes levied on the production of Whiskey, called the Whiskey Rebellion. John Chapman, also know as Johnny Appleseed, did travel the frontier with apple seeds. But not to provide people with a delicious and healthy treat, he was promoting the fermentation of Hard Apple Cider. One of U. S. Grant’s Adjutant, Colonel John Rawlins primary jobs was to monitor Grants drinking so that his alcoholism wouldn’t effect his decision making in the battlefield. These, and many other facts, concerning how alcohol consumption played a roll in American History are in the interesting book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    M Christopher

    A sloppy mess of a book, written by a recovering alcoholic who is also the child of an alcoholic. Susan Cheever, daughter of John Cheever, was clearly motivated to write this book by her own and her family's history. Throughout, she maintains a sort of horrified fascination with alcohol, much like Joseph Conrad called "the fascination of the abomination." Her tone veers between a Puritan-like disdain for alcohol and its effects on our nation's history and a wistful celebration of "God's good cre A sloppy mess of a book, written by a recovering alcoholic who is also the child of an alcoholic. Susan Cheever, daughter of John Cheever, was clearly motivated to write this book by her own and her family's history. Throughout, she maintains a sort of horrified fascination with alcohol, much like Joseph Conrad called "the fascination of the abomination." Her tone veers between a Puritan-like disdain for alcohol and its effects on our nation's history and a wistful celebration of "God's good creature." The book is poorly edited -- repetitions remain and chapters set off on a path only to double back and jump to something else. There was some information that was fresh to me -- the consequences of drinking by the Secret Service agents assigned to President & Mrs. Kennedy in Dallas on the night before the assassination and the sad history of alcohol abuse by Richard Nixon -- but the material in the rest of the book is pretty well known. The book left me wondering if a similar history by an author with a less fraught relationship with alcohol might not be preferable.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sean Kelly

    This book was fascinating. I know only a little about American history in terms of details, and most of what I do know I learned as an adult reading books like this and listening to podcasts. While the author here no longer imbibes, she does a wonderful job of weaving the influence of alcohol throughout American history from the first European settlers to Nixon and beyond. It would seem that if something important was happening in America, some (if not all) of the major players were either hamme This book was fascinating. I know only a little about American history in terms of details, and most of what I do know I learned as an adult reading books like this and listening to podcasts. While the author here no longer imbibes, she does a wonderful job of weaving the influence of alcohol throughout American history from the first European settlers to Nixon and beyond. It would seem that if something important was happening in America, some (if not all) of the major players were either hammered or hung over. While this may be an overstatement and oversimplification of Ms. Cheevers' writing, the volume, influence, and ubiquitous nature of alcohol and its use throughout the history of the United States is remarkable to say the least. Having read several reviews of the book, and after subsequent fact checks, it seems Ms. Cheevers blurs some of the facts in service of her theories, but unlike some other reviewers, I don't feel that this affected my overall impression of the book. The need to fact check notwithstanding, the embedded nature of alcohol in North American culture remains striking. Each chapter of the book is interesting, and I can say without hyperbole that I learned something in each one. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone interested in American history, and some of the tragedies and follies therein. Ironically, I'll end this post with... cheers!

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...