Drinking in America: Our Secret History by Susan Cheever
Publication Date: 2015
From the publisher:
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.
I picked this one up because it came highly recommended by Beth Fish Reads. It was an interesting look at a selection of significant times in American History where alcohol was a factor in events. Cheever goes mostly chronologically with a few asides that go back and forth in time.
Beginning with the landing of the Mayflower and the decision to stay where they were instead of going to where they had been granted permission to establish a home. The main reason? They were short of beer.
From there she takes a look at the founding fathers and the importance of taverns in communities.
The first government building didn’t go up in Boston until 1658. Before that court was held in rooms at John Turner’s Tavern and George Monck’s Blue Anchor. “Upon all the new settlements the Spaniards make, the first thing they do is build a church,” wrote the British captain Thomas Walduck in 1708. “The first thing the Dutch do upon a new colony is to build them a fort, but the first thing the English do, be it in the most remote part of the world, or amongst the most barbarous Indians, is to set up a tavern or drinking house.”33 Taverns were also places where rumors began and ended, where neighbors got to know each other, and where communities found an identity. If the taverns and the drinking fed the colonists’ desire for independence from powers on the other side of the world, it was no wonder the desire grew rapidly.
There was plenty of interesting information in this book. Cheever looks at the changing viewpoints regarding alcohol and its necessity or its evilness. She takes a look at some of the temperance movements but I was surprised that there was actually not much about the prohibition era.
I was also surprised to learn a few things along the way. I had not known about President Nixon’s drinking issues. Nor was I aware of the speculation that some of President Kennedy’s protection service members were speculated to have had impaired reaction time in Dallas due to the fact that they’d been out late the night before and possibly drinking.
This book is very much a series of snapshots of America through the years and the role alcohol played. I thought it was a fun and interesting read.