November 18, 2012

Review - Drinking History (Andrew F. Smith)

A companion to Andrew F. Smith's critically acclaimed and popular Eating History: Thirty Turning Points in the Making of American Cuisine, this volume recounts the individuals, ingredients, corporations, controversies, and myriad events responsible for America's diverse and complex beverage scene. He revisits the country's major historical moments: colonization, the American Revolution, the Whiskey Rebellion, the temperance movement, Prohibition, and repeal, and he tracks the growth of the American beverage industry throughout the world. The result is an intoxicating encounter with an often overlooked aspect of American culture and global influence.
Smith weaves a wild history full of surprising stories and explanations for such classic slogans as "taxation with and without representation;" "the lips that touch wine will never touch mine;" and "rum, Romanism, and rebellion." He reintroduces readers to Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and the colorful John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed), and he rediscovers America's vast literary and cultural engagement with beverages and their relationship to politics, identity, and health.


Review
Who knew how big the impact of beverages on American culture really is? In his book Drinking History Andrew F. Smith introduces the reader to a history of drinking in the United States, from Colonial times, when beer ran out and colonists had to make do with plain water, straight to today's low-fat soy latte from the nearest coffee-shop of your choice.
I've always been drawn to books that explore the history of things, probably because history class back in school has been rather dull, and looking at our past from a slightly different angle is something that accommodates my curiosity more than the apparent lack of enthusiasm my history teachers showed.
As far as factual information goes this book has it all - each chapter brings you some historical background, dips into how certain beverages were produced, shares how people's tastes changed over the years, and obviously major events such as the Prohibition are in the spotlight too.
Sadly, my interest in the doubtlessly fascinating topic, and my appreciation for a presentation of facts in a brief and succinct format, collided with the writing style which is bordering heavily on school book charm. I expect my non fiction fare to be a bit more lively and a little less dry, and hadn't it been for the segments on typical American beverages, eg Root Beer or Dr. Pepper, which I personally found the most interesting, my verdict would have been less favorable.
In short: Shaken, but definitely not stirred!

3/5 Trees

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the NetGalley book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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