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Sweet and Low: A Family Story

3.48  ·  Rating Details  ·  977 Ratings  ·  177 Reviews
Sweet and Low is the bittersweet, hilarious story of Ben Eisenstadt, who invented sugar packets and Sweet'N Low, and amassed the great fortune that would later destroy his family. It is a story of immigrants, Jewish gangsters, and Brooklyn; of sugar, saccharine, obesity, and diet crazes; of jealousy, betrayal, and ambition. Disinherited along with his mother and siblings, ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published March 20th 2007 by Picador (first published 2006)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,574)
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Dec 23, 2007 Charly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In my first house I owned- a tiny bungalow that has since been abandoned -the neighbors had some outrageous family fights. These weren’t your typical domestic violence dealies between a man and his wife. Instead, it seemed the entire extended family would partake. Over time, I began to enjoy the theatrics. I would sit on my stoop, drink beer and giggle uneasily as this cast of characters humiliated themselves. So, it’s no wonder I enjoyed Sweet and Low by Richard Cohen.

Cohen is jaded over his i
Memoir of estrangement from a dysfunctional family + history of sugar and sugar substitutes + history of New York corruption = surprisingly compelling read. I actually laughed out loud a couple of times.

"There was an ancient form of primogeniture at play in the family; as the son of the oldest son, Cousin Jeffrey was golden. One week, Grandma Betty decided that a grandchild would, for no particular reason, have a party thrown in his or her honor, complete with cake and gifts. While standing in m
Feb 03, 2008 Troy rated it really liked it
I found this book fascinating, in multiple ways. Since moving to Brooklyn, I love walking the streets of Carroll Gardens with the impressions stories of Brooklyn have given me. This is true for both of Jonathan Lethem novels, and now I'm happy to add to that with this wonderful story of small pink packet, and how it impacted the rise and fall of a truly Brooklyn family.

Most of us are divided either by our love of sweet, or savory. It's as strong as politics or religion. You have to side, and you
Nov 09, 2012 Oriana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2012
So I've been doing a crazy amount biking lately, which may I please just say is the best goddamn thing ever. I've gotten a little obsessive about it; like zero to biking everywhere, every day, all the time, inventing faraway errands to run just so I can bike to them, or only making plans in other neighborhoods because biking around Williamsburg isn't good enough, or just getting on the bike at midnight and zipping around because I can. I didn't bike in the hurricane (this guy did, though), but I ...more
Jun 24, 2007 Erin rated it did not like it
I thought I would like this book since I like non-fiction with some drama and a bit of teaching involved. But I found the whole thing rather uninteresting. The family really had no redeeming features. The history of Sweet and Low (and the diet revolution) also was tiresome. I sped through to the end to see why the author's family was disinherited and ended up not caring.
Nov 07, 2007 Julia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: huge history buffs
I had high hopes for this book buoyed by favorable reviews on Amazon. I invested time in what I thought was a pretty good method of potential book research, but this time it hit a snag. I had to make a new bookshelf for this book - unfinished by choice books. That probably says it all for me.

If you really like a lot of history with your books, you will likely love this book. The author included a purposefully dated Xerox copy of an obituary that encapsulated Sweet and Low's founder and the compa
Aug 13, 2008 Liz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Liz by: Joanne Sliker

I have officially lost all of my faith in mankind, except for Rich Cohen. Cohen manages to fit all of fake sugar's (saccharin, cyclamate, aspartame, sucralose) history into a few pages--although I was constantly wondering why scientists kept discovering these chemical compounds by licking their fingers . . didn't we learn in 5th grade t
May 07, 2008 Carrie rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: History buffs
Recommended to Carrie by: Allison Woolfe
Shelves: effed-up-memoirs
Couldn't make it to the end. This memoir about the family who brought us Sweet and Low was funny in parts, but way too heavy on history lessons for my taste. Along with the story of this family, which I think is pretty interesting, you also get pages and pages about how New York neighborhoods evolved and all kinds of background about inventions that have only a tangential connection to the story at hand. My suspicion is that the writer promised a book of a certain length and did the college-kid ...more
I wanted to love this book, being a Brooklyn resident and appreciating the historical aspects of the family's history here.

However, as much as I laughed at Cohen's telling of family tales, his repetitiveness became not only annoying but confusing. I struggled to keep track of all the family members and which generation they belonged to, and ultimately could care less what happened to them.

I have too many other books waiting to be read to continue plodding on with this one.
The writing was not particularly interesting or good but the historical fiction element was enjoyable and I suppose the family dynamics were somewhat interesting, but there didn't seem to be too many likable characters to be rooting for and they seemed a little flat. It's definitely a story and setting driven book.
Anita Smith
I thought this book sucked. I basically skimmed it in an attempt to find all this "family drama" that I never actually found. Hell, my family had more drama than this last week. And that was a light week for us.

Thank God I only paid a dollar for this at a library book sale. Although I still feel like I overpaid.
Jul 18, 2008 Molly rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoirs
This book, about how the fortune of the family owned business Sweet 'N Low fractures the members into haves and have nots, had great potential but in the end, I just didn't like the way it was written. It didn't engage me at all and I had to force myself to finish.
It's hard to imagine that this book would have been published if it hadn't been about a family connected to Sweet N Low. Moderately interesting, though the inter-family problems are either not clearly written or just not that serious. A light, entertaining read.
Dec 27, 2007 Hannah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of the Sweet and Low company, as written by the extremely bitter, disinherited heir. Almost impossible to get through due to HORRENDOUS writing, despite seemingly fascinating subject matter and fabulous cover design. A huge disappointment!
Jul 05, 2016 Norm rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Disclaimer: this author grew up in my home town, so I feel an affinity to him and his world-view.

This book is the story of his family and the story of his grandfather's company, Cumberland Packing, which manufactures and sells "Sweet and Low". 'Dysfunctional' would definitely describe the family and some of the history of the business, and its a very entertaining story, though somewhat grim. I really liked it, but it may be too specific to a time, place and group of people for some to find it ex
Jun 11, 2015 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just so Interesting

I really like Rich Cohen's books(maybe because we are north shore Jews of the same age) and this one is no exception. Like a Jewish "Dynasty" this book takes you through the fascinating, if you can believe it, history of the family that started the sweet n low company, it's struggles, corruption, mental illness...all of it. Cohen chronicles the history of a business and family in a way that makes you examine your own dysfunctional family. Fast paced, well written. Read it.
Not a huge fan - this was supposed to be an interesting look at the invention of Sweet 'N Low, how it created a family fortune, and the legal/mafia troubles that befell the company as told by a disinherited grandson. What it actually was, was a rambling history of Brooklyn, family squabbles, complaints about being disinherited (though the author makes it perfectly clear that of course his family didn't need the money, what with the chartered flights, player pianos, and Concorde jet rides he and ...more
This memoir/history had a good mix of family drama, crime and the history of sugar substitutes. As someone who is actually allergic/intolerant to aspertame I found the history fascinating, and the family drama added some spice. However, it might be partly because I put the book down for several months before picking it back up, but some of the story of the family seemed to drag and become overly confused. The author goes back and forward in time, and names so many relatives and employees that th ...more
Aug 03, 2008 Jonathan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who watch "unwrapped" on the food network
This was a story about the creation of sweet n' low, written by the grandson of the inventor. The book is part history of sugar/artificial sweeteners/New York City, and part memoir of the Eisenstadt and Cohen families.

The Cohens, including Rich, the author, were written out of the Eisenstadt will, which denied them any share of the sweet n' low fortune. Rich wrote the book as an attempt to get to the bottom of why his mother was denied her share of the family fortune.

The actual history of the
Feb 06, 2013 Al rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To Rich Cohen’s credit he doesn’t let “Sweet and Low,” his memoir of the Eisenstadt family and its rise to fortune with its artificial sweetener, descend into a diatribe against the members of his family that engineered his disinheritance. He doesn’t let them off the hook, either, but he provides the kind of insider’s perspective that is all too rare in corporate histories. “Sweet and Low” is more than a mere corporate history,though; Cohen transforms the Cumberland Packing Company tale into an ...more
Apr 06, 2010 Chris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There were two things about Sweet N Low: A Family Story that stood out for me. (1) Rich Cohen is a very good writer. He knows how to use metaphors and analogies to convey a point and does them in really funny ways. He's got a great sense of humor and used it to make what could have been a boring story much more engaging. (2) Cohen comes across as rather self-absorbed. I don't know of another author who's used a quasi-family scandal as a plot for a book. No doubt the Cohen family is unique. The a ...more
Sep 27, 2009 Joe rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is written by the grandson of the inventor of Sweet and Low, the artificial sweetener. It tells the story of the company, but more than that, it tells the story of his family -- including how his parents were disinhereted. The history of Sweet and Low includes development of a sugar replacement just at the time when a large number of people started to become interested in dieting, possible ties with the mafia, embezzlement, and the politics of public health and food safety.

The book is
Nov 28, 2015 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very strange story - the dark secrets and family feuds behind a seemingly mundane sweetener manufacturer. I’m not sure what I expected with regards to this book – it had been on my to-read list for so long I’d forgotten why I’d added it in the first place. But it didn’t disappoint. I’ll admit there were a few times when I thought the technical details about the industry could have been scaled down, & at times there just wasn’t enough dirt dishing for my liking. But as it was writt ...more
We all know how rare it is to literally laugh out loud while reading a book, yet I found myself doing so, to the point of tearing up. Full disclosure: I'm Jewish, and family has a generally similar Eastern European background, timeline of immigrating, American Dream, cultural worldview, so part of why I really liked this book is because I know "these" people, I know the brooch on every sweater in the same spot, I know how older sons are crowned the Mayor of their college, grad school, company, e ...more
Kelly Tillman
Oct 27, 2013 Kelly Tillman rated it really liked it
This isn't a book about Sweet and Low. This is a book about sugar, Brooklyn throughout the ages, the dieting craze, a dysfunctional family with money, corruption and Sweet and Low. Rich Cohen has written a memoir that was entertaining as well as informational. At some point I felt sorry for the company when alternative sugars came on the market (Don't. This company now makes Sugar in the Raw which I would steal by the handful from Starbucks, Stevia in the Raw, Agave in the Raw and Monk Fruit in ...more
Brian Bess
Sep 15, 2013 Brian Bess rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Millions of little sweet, low, pink heirlooms

The pink cover grabbed my attention initially. I know that color well. I have torn open thousands of packets in that shade as I gratify and sustain my unrepentant vice: unsweetened ice tea with extra lemon and one or more of those little sweet, low pink packets. What kind of book lurks inside this American Splendor-esque graphic novel cover? Little pink junkie that I am, I told myself I had to read this book. Would it change my attitude toward my cons
Jan 22, 2008 Rebecca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
excellent book. it is the story of the jewish immigrant who moved to brooklyn, NY from eastern europe in the early 1900s and founded the sugar packing company "sweet'n'low". it is partly a history lesson of what brooklyn first looked like when the dutch settled it several hundred years ago, it is a story of a dysfuntional family that became wealthy through sweet'n'low, and it also talks about the history of the american fad of dieting and how that fad has made the company successfull. it is by ...more
Jan 17, 2015 Clint rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Saga of rise and semi-fall of the family that created and packaged Sweet and Low. Author's end of the family inexplicably received no inheritance, leaving the author to say only the story remains. Good mixing of the history of diet sweeteners with the family saga. The history part is never too long to bore the reader before the book returns to the family story. It was particularly nice hearing the author/family member read the book CD. It lent additional credence to the story.
Jan 26, 2016 Laurie rated it liked it
Shelves: jewish, memoirs
This was a fun memoir of the downside of a family fortune. I'm not sure why Rich Cohen who is a terrific writer found the need to include the history of Brooklyn, sugar and sugar substitures in the book. I think the story would have stood on its own as a memoir. If you are looking for a political history of the business of sugar replacements in America, you would find this book very informative.
This was an excellent book. After reading the reviews I was a little nervous that it was going to be 300 pages of the author whining about not getting his inheritance. I was pleasantly suprised to find within these pages an indepth history of Sweet and Low, including the fight to ban saccharine, the power of the FDA, corrupt politicians as well as a good history on New York. While Cohen does address the fact that his branch of the family was written out of the fortune he does so only in the fina ...more
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RICH COHEN is the author of Sweet and Low (FSG, 2006), Tough Jews, The Avengers, The Record Men, and the memoir Lake Effect. His work has appeared in many major publications, and he is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone. He lives with his family in Connecticut.

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