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A Drinking Life: A Memoir

3.88  ·  Rating Details ·  2,612 Ratings  ·  229 Reviews
A journalist and author of Loving Women recreates the hard-drinking Brooklyn-Irish lifestyle that informed every aspect of his childhood and early career and that eventually destroyed his marriage.
Hardcover, First Edition (U.S.), 265 pages
Published January 19th 1994 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 1994)
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Jim Golden
Mar 26, 2012 Jim Golden rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was expecting more of a story about alcoholism and specific drunk events in Hamill's life. This is much more than a story about alcoholism, it is a story about Hamill's life, and alcohol just so happens to be pervasive throughout his childhood and adulthood. This is truly a complete picture of a man, of his boyhood in the Neighborhood, his family, marriage, his career, and alcohol touched every aspect of his life. Drinking was a constant throughout Pete's journey--a way to celebrate with frien ...more
Sep 10, 2011 Roy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to know more about life in NYC in the 50s and 60s.
Recommended to Roy by: my dad
My dad gave me this book because it resonated with him and his life. He was barely one-year-old for V-E day, and he grew up in Harlem, not Brooklyn, so his life wasn’t in lock step with Hamill’s Drinking Life, but there were similarities. Both went to Catholic school, drank in the same bars, found early solace in the public library, and hated Cardinal Spellman. Like most boys in New York in the 50s they ran up against, and with, gangs. For this and other reasons, when it was time for my dad to r ...more
Dan Mccoig
Jun 03, 2013 Dan Mccoig rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was published in 1994. I ran across the title in a list of "must read memoirs." The book more than lived up to its billing. Hamill is a journalist, essayist, and novelist who began his writing career with the New York Post.

Hamill tells the story of his Irish Catholic upbringing in 1940s and 1950s Park Slope, Brooklyn, his professional ascendancy as a writer in the 1960s and 1970s, and the role of beer and whiskey in his undoing personally. In Hamill's world, strong drink accompanied li
May 11, 2010 Daniel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
My friend Sally thinks Anna Karenina should be called Levin; I always thought you might as well complain that Moby Dick isn't about the whale. I think I have found, however, the winner of the least apt title: this book has almost nothing to do with the author's drinking problem. It's a memoir, and the struggle with drink is no more a thread to his story than is the fact of his Irish ancestry. It's an interesting book, written in a forceful, journalistic style, but there are some questions it rai ...more
Spider the Doof Warrior
I'm nearly done with this book. I don't drink more than wussy sweet wine, no higher than 4% alcohol.
I do not think I am so dorky for this. Pete Hamill talks about growing up surrounded with alcohol, having his first drink around the age of 11 and how drinking shaped his life. He talked about wanting to be an artist and a writer and having the pressure to not rise above his station thrust-ed on him by his peers.

I say, screw that. Live life the way you want to. Don't just drown your feelings in b
Patrick O'Neil
With A Drinking Life, Hamill has written the great American proletarian memoir. Which is no small feat considering, aside from his working class roots, Hamill has become anything but a proletariat. I’m not disputing he was a hard working journalist who put his time in writing for the New York Post – a profession almost as hard as his former two fisted drinking binges. But what I find interesting is Hamill’s insistence on romancing his working stiff upbringing as if it somehow not only justifies ...more
Nov 03, 2014 Derek rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Much like David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries, the title for Pete Hamill's memoir is a bit of a misnomer; to be sure, drinking plays a central role in Hamill's life, but this reads much more like a standard autobiography with lots of drinking to serve as the backdrop. Which is fine, of course, if you're a reader who happens to be interested in the life of Pete Hamill. I wasn't, necessarily, and that became a barrier to my enjoyment of the book.

So why wasn't I interested? Well, I might have been, but t
Isaac Babel's Ghost
Memoirs about giving up drinking usually follow a formula: The author relates a series of embarrassing ancedotes that happened while drunk, he "bottoms out" and realizes he has a problem, book ends with something uplifting about them getting their lives back. This book, however, totally breaks with that formula. In fact, alcohol, while present just about everywhere in the book, plays a mostly background role in the narrative until the very end. The author spends much more time on his memories of ...more
Dec 26, 2008 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had originally read Hamill's "Downtown" and loved it (I'm a history buff). So I picked this up instead of any of his fiction thinking it would be more stories about old New York. So imagine my delighted surprise when I found out that he actually grew up less than a block from where I currently live (in South Slope).
Needless to say, the time period of his life before he moves away from home was an absolute joy for me to read about. He describes how an old Brooklyn neighborhood reacts to major
Connie Curtis
Jan 16, 2011 Connie Curtis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
A frank look at the life of journalist and author Pete Hamill. Based on the title, I thought this would be more of a detailed drunk-alogue and how he subsequently found sobriety--not so. Hamill spends a lot of time relating his early years, growing up poor in an Irish immigrant family in Brooklyn in the 30's-50's. Alcohol is the undercurrent of his life even then, with an alcoholic father, who often was absent even when he was present, and the magnetic pull of drinking within the Neighborhood, a ...more
John Sheridan
Dec 05, 2016 John Sheridan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just plain marvelous! Especially since I grew up in Brooklyn and my family also has some Irish roots. I can understand the drinking culture that Pete comes from to some extent and loved to hear his story as it has helped me fill in some of the gaps in an imaginative way of my own family history.
Jan 21, 2014 Grinzz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: about-writing
Set your expectations to Zero.

It's a way of living in the moment - staying in the present. So many reviews of this book start out... I was expecting... or This book didn't.

I started with no preconceived notions.

I really enjoyed the book - especially the language,the pace, and the content.

Hamill is older than I am and he gave me a new perspective on events. I was in high school when Kennedy was shot. My parents would never have read the NY Post. I literally drove past Woodstock in 1969.

The book
Aug 16, 2007 Thomas rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers interested in substance abuse
Be prepared for a slow read, with lots of diversions. Sometimes it's hard to tell if Hamill is bragging or complaining about his alcholic past. Nevertheless, it is a "full-frontal" look at one man's life. Unfortunately for Hamill, he has not yet been introduced to the God of grace and truth and so lives a spiritually asceptic life.
Sep 25, 2007 Erica added it
A friend I love recommended this book -- or any book by Pete Hamill -- to me. Yet as mightily as I struggled, I could not get beyond Chapter 13. Nothing about this story grabbed me. I can't tell my friend though, so I suppose I'll give it another shot someday....
Nov 23, 2010 Ruth rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is an autobiography of Pete Hamill, a reporter and writer from Brooklyn, New York. He grew up in the forties, during the war. His father was (yawn) an Irish immigrant who drank too much (yawn), was mean to his family (yawn). Pete's mother was a loving, intelligent woman who does not get nearly enough credit in this book.

Unfortunately, Pete resembles his father in the selfish way he lives his life. The best part of this book is the early part, with descriptions of life in Brooklyn duri
Stephen Kaldon
Jan 04, 2014 Stephen Kaldon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
With Pete Hamill's A Drinking Life, we are presented with an account of the author's life from his four-year old self, living "on a leafy street in Brooklyn" to a point in time on a January afternoon, after being sober for five years. In between these points is an honest memoir about the inner struggles of a sensitive, creative young man who finds himself torn between the insular community he is born into and the larger community he must move towards to experience the world that he craves.

Dec 27, 2011 Chad rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What a bore! Mistakenly, I thought this book would be about growing up in an alcoholic household and how that experience molded the writer. Instead I got a simpleminded coming of age story in an all too familiar atmosphere: Brooklyn in the 40's. Man, the way some people write about their youth in New York, you'd think they all attended the same writing seminar. Dodgers - check. Abusive father- check. Angelic mother - check. Hanging on the corner with your friends - check. Playing stick ball in t ...more
Nov 28, 2009 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pete Hamill has been many things: Columnist, novelist, liner notes writer for "Blood on the Tracks," boyfriend of Shirley McClain, street fighter, and one of four men to wrestle Sirhan Sirhan to the ground after the assassination of Robert Kennedy.

As the title proclaims, this book focuses on his life as a drunk. Luckily it's about much more than that: Hamill's true subject is growing up poor in Brooklyn in the 1930s, the war years, and the intellectual and cultural journey of a young man who dr
Brian Anderson
Sep 26, 2016 Brian Anderson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
LOved it
Nov 13, 2011 Richard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like all great memoirists Hamill doesn’t pull any punches; he reveals all in beautiful spare language. Like Mary Karr tells in her coming of age “Cherry” and “The Liars Club’ Hamill grew up in a poor working class family but unlike Karr he was raised in the mean streets of Brooklyn, the son of a drunken Irish father he disdained he saw himself as bounded by the limits of his immediate Brooklyn environment and expected to grow up to work a day job and hang at the bars at night only to do it again ...more

Pete Hamill has been one of my favorite authors and writers for a long time. This book covers ground and was published entirely before he entered my awareness. The story of his boyhood in Brooklyn, in The Neighborhood grabbed me, and didn't let me go until sometime in the mid 1970's when Pete Hamill heard his father singing on a hillside in Ireland (aka the last page of the memoir.). Hamill is still around and writing, so there's no spoilers there. I think the decades that make up the gap from e
Jack Oughton
Dec 16, 2016 Jack Oughton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This man seems to have lived the kind of hard, impulsive and alcohol infused life that I admire, am repulsed by, am fascinated with, and fear - all in equal measure. And he tells his story so well.

If I make it to Pete's age, I hope to have such exciting tales to tell - well, perhaps with less broken homes, liver cirrhosis and all that...
Dec 29, 2009 Alec rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My first instinct is to say this book was like a half-generation-older, less enjoyable version of The Tender Bar. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the book - I did - but I am so infatuated with The Tender Bar that the bar (pun!) is set almost impossibly high. It is possible that transposing the order I read the two books would have had a similar effect on their ratings, but I don't think so.

No doubt, Pete Hamill lived an interesting life -- second generation Irish immigrant growing up in the de
Jul 23, 2014 Allan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Don't be fooled by the title of this memoir; rather than solely providing anecdotes of his drinking days, instead this is a very well written book about the first 40 years of Hamill's life, including the effect that alcohol had in shaping it, but not exclusively so.

The book is broken into different sections, and in each section, relatively short chapters bring to life the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Hamill's youth, the relationships with his parents, siblings and friends, detail his schooling and
Date: 2010
Format: Book on CD
Why I read it: I was looking for a book on CD at my local library, and this jumped out. I lived in New York City in the 1970's, when Pete Hamill was a bit of a folk hero.

Peter Hamill is clearly an accomplished writer. He presented a picture of life in Irish Brooklyn in the 1940's that I never imagined. He made a bunch of mistakes that surprised me. He was selected to go to the most prestigious Catholic high school in New York City, and changed schools and then dropped
May 15, 2016 Robin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Pete Hamill is the son of an Irish immigrant, who grew up in Brooklyn. He tells us of his childhood and early adult life and how drinking was a part of every aspect. It was simply accepted that to be a man, you drank. Except that drinking wasn’t helping him in his career, family life or happiness.
I felt he was telling us his feelings in a very personal way (which he didn’t do to his loved ones). I enjoyed hearing what he thought about drinking and how he finally decided he wasn’t going to do i
Hamill does a nice job of telling the story of his childhood in Brooklyn growing up in the 40s/50s in a poor Irish family with a drunk for a father. Not a new story really, but there's enough depth of detail here to distinguish his account. He manages to capture the way that, despite living in a huge city, the neighborhood comes to define the boundaries of one's life. And how awkward and difficult escaping those boundaries can be. Booze is certainly a prominent theme but the book isn't simply a ...more
Jan 10, 2008 Rick rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Hamill, the veteran New York journalist turned novelist, wrote this memoir in the early 90s, describing his early years growing up in Brooklyn (Park Slope when it was a working class neighborhood), finding his way to books and art, bars, school, jobs, and finally into the newspaper life. Attendant to all these phases was drinking, his father's, friends', his own. Hamill has done interesting things and keeps a journalist’s ear for incident and dialogue sharply opened as he recalls his formative p ...more
Nov 10, 2015 Namrata rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psych-neuro
One of the most earnest, honest accounts of a natural progression of life’s hardships I’ve ever read. Hammil writes his memories of his life, including those hazy, shameful, or lost, in a manner that makes you feel as if you were there. The most poignant aspect of his novel is the ability to truly feel and understand the transgressions that lead to our most painful habits. Separate from empathy, sympathy, or pity, readers can actually feel the natural-ness of how Pete’s life played out; I rarely ...more
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Pete Hamill is a novelist, essayist and journalist whose career has endured for more than forty years. He was born in Brooklyn, N. Y. in 1935, the oldest of seven children of immigrants from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He attended Catholic schools as a child. He left school at 16 to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a sheetmetal worker, and then went on to the United States Navy. While serving in t ...more
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“I wanted to sit there forever, drinking in bitter satisfaction, using someone else as a license. In the years that followed, I did a lot of that.” 5 likes
“I would understand later that baseball was what truly made him an American: the sports pages were more crucial documents than the Constitution.” 4 likes
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