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Drinking in America: Our Secret History

3.25  ·  Rating Details ·  419 Ratings  ·  89 Reviews
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 alcoholis
Hardcover, 258 pages
Published October 2015 by Twelve
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Richard McMahon I read part of Lender's book, and the similarity is striking, particularly in the beginning (I say no more). Certainly no need to read both books. I'd…moreI read part of Lender's book, and the similarity is striking, particularly in the beginning (I say no more). Certainly no need to read both books. I'd recommend going with the older book (Lender) for the illustrations.(less)
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Nov 26, 2015 Andrew rated it it was ok
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.
Sep 20, 2015 Bandit rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Richard McMahon
Nov 29, 2015 Richard McMahon rated it really liked it
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
Sep 11, 2016 Cathie rated it did not like it
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.

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 ...more
Apr 29, 2016 Lynn rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
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 ...more
Nov 29, 2015 Susan rated it it was amazing
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
Rayfes Mondal
Sep 21, 2016 Rayfes Mondal rated it it was amazing
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).
Margaret Sankey
Sep 22, 2016 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
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.
Feb 09, 2016 Armand rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
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
Erin Cataldi
Dec 01, 2015 Erin Cataldi rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
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 ...more
Bill Hough
Jan 25, 2016 Bill Hough rated it did not like it
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 ...more
May 17, 2016 David rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Bob Kaufman
Nov 25, 2016 Bob Kaufman rated it liked it
Shelves: open-circle-club
Interesting and educational.
Nov 14, 2016 Debby rated it really liked it
Interesting history of our country which we seem to overlook. We should not
Oct 20, 2016 Cat rated it it was amazing
Have to say it, I enjoyed this book! I love bites of history the history books and classes leave out! I am such a subversive... Anyway, I never really gave too much thought to how much alcohol has influenced our world until my daughter came home one afternoon from college and told me how much beer our forefathers, mothers and their children drank in any giving days! I have a new found appreciation of very old churches, cathedrals and castles, lol! Yes, drinking is an issue for many people, I ...more
Mar 02, 2016 Craig rated it really liked it
I was surprised by the theme of this book. This book was another Christmas 2015 present. I asked for the book because I saw some good ratings on it, the cover looked cool and I had asked for a few other books regarding drinking. I did not read too many reviews. Based on the cover and title, I thought this book would explore the history of drinking through the lens of alcohol production. The impression I got was that we would start with the early breweries, work our way to distilling in America, ...more
Oct 14, 2016 Morgan rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2016
Just plain poor writing. Not very solid research or conclusions. A few interesting facts but found myself fact checking because I didn't trust the author. She clearly had an agenda and wasn't going to let reality mess with that.
Don LaFountaine
Jul 21, 2016 Don LaFountaine rated it liked it
This was an okay book about the history of drinking alcohol in America and how it affected the outcome of our history. Though the author brings up interesting points, it felt like I was reading a lecture on temperance. If given the opportunity, I probably would have rated the book 2 1/2 stars.

The book starts with the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock. They landed because they were almost out of beer. When crossing the Atlantic on the Mayflower, they weathered many storms; some against the elemen
Felt like a book report with some AA thrown in.
Sheila Mcnair
Sep 30, 2016 Sheila Mcnair rated it really liked it
I learned so much, I would recommend this book to anyone. It's also a great refresher for history you learn in your school days framed around alcohol. I would have liked a mention about the excess of leftover sugars from rum and other alcohol and what's going on with it now.
Steve Carter
Dec 30, 2015 Steve Carter rated it liked it
Drinking in America: Our Secret History
By Susan Cheever

So the pilgrims were going to Virginia, but were running out of beer and landed in Cape Cod because it was there. They had to have beer, because they couldn't drink the water they brought, it was contaminated, but that was OK with them because they only drank beer anyway back in England because they came from a civilization that knew no better than to render the local water supply undrinkable because of their sanitation issues, etc. (Bright
R. Sinnema
Sep 10, 2016 R. Sinnema rated it it was ok
Great concept; poorly executed. There was a lot of potential here, but Cheever didn't exploit it.
First, there's not much of a thesis here. At best, there are a series of vignettes with the theme "bad things happened because the people responsible may have been alcoholics."
Second, there's scant evidence for most of her assertions (e.g., that Grant continued to drink during the ACW, or that Wm. Clark's problem was alcohol rather than mental illness). Other "evidence" is highly subjective (e.g., JF
Dec 11, 2015 Lawrence rated it really liked it
I think this is a very valuable book. It made me aware of something that I would not have grasped on my own --- the power of alcohol and alcoholism in the course of American history. Here is a really hidden history of America. Social and economic and institutional and intellectual history will have to move over a bit to give it space.

Ms. Cheever has personal credentials that support her deep interest in this area. She was an alcoholic and she hails from an alcoholic family. She has insights into
Jun 16, 2016 Sue rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Too much focus on individual foibles and not enough overview -- for example, the author spends a great many pages discussing John and Abigail Adams' alcoholic son as if the reader does not understand that alcoholism is not a modern affliction (though, I grant you, the term "alcoholism" is a relatively modern one). She also devotes an entire chapter to the prevalence of alcoholism among famous writers (including her father), though I doubt that this is of great relevance to the history of our ...more
Jun 14, 2016 Steve rated it it was ok
Not so much "Drinking in America" as "Alcoholics and Alcoholism in America." As someone who enjoys a cold craft beer or a fine whiskey fairly frequently, I was hoping to hear about what we brought over (beer, as it turns out) and what and why we switched to. I wanted to read about the rise of German lagers and the domination of the mass-market Brewers and vintners, and then the rise to respectability of American wine and the resurgence of craft beer.

This isn't that book. This book looks at mome
Oct 31, 2015 Dave rated it liked it
It's profound to think that “there are no second acts for an alcoholic”.

Cheever is a writer, as was her Dad , and sadly, this book went where I feared it would go. It focused way too much on authors and writers who drank too much! While interesting, it’s just one aspect of alcoholism. But one that perhaps Cheever was inclined to partake in? What about Roofers? songwriters? cooks? Overall it's a fascinating look at how America developed, evolved- as seen thru the lens of glass. The book lacked m
Sep 24, 2015 Bruce rated it it was amazing
Thanks to Hachette Book Group and Goodreads for providing me with this interesting work on US History. I remember in times past of hearing about the underside of history. Those parts of history people do not want to promulgate or teach kids too soon. The alcohol and drug use of our Founding Fathers and other individuals involved in developing our country is one of them. It is most certainly not taught in ElHi, nor in general college courses. One doesn't find out about it until one delves deeper ...more
Danielle T
Jul 25, 2016 Danielle T rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
It was ok. Taking history and framing it through a specific theme can be intriguing- literally just read a book asserting that jewels shaped some of our geopolitical history- but for most of this book it was less about alcohol and America and more on alcoholism and America. Which isn't a *bad* frame, but historical anecdotes were fairly general. Around chapter 3, I finally got that the author was drawing comparisons to her own family history (and maybe I should get out of non-fiction/genre and ...more
Ken Rideout
May 25, 2016 Ken Rideout rated it it was ok
The Pilgrims were obsessed with beer. The Colonists with rum. Then we had apple jack from Johnny Appleseed (found out they made their hard liquor like icewine - just let the water freeze out of the hard cider!). Whiskey from corn and applejack from apples freed us from importing the raw ingredients. It is a bit creepy to think about kids being given alcohol as part of their breakfast, factory workers getting beer during their breaks, etc. Kennedy's secret service team was hung over when he was ...more
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“The Pilgrims landed the Mayflower at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on a cold November day in 1620 because they were running out of beer.” 3 likes
“The Pilgrims believed beer was an unalloyed good, a 'good creature of God.' People who did not drink were suspect and 'crank-brained.” 1 likes
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