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A Drinking Life: A Memoir

3.87  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,513 Ratings  ·  219 Reviews
<!--StartFragment--> As a child during the Depression and World War II, Pete Hamill learned early that drinking was an essential part of being a man, inseparable from the rituals of celebration, mourning, friendship, romance, and religion. Only later did he discover its ability to destroy any writer's most valuable tools: clarity, consciousness, memory. In A Drinking ...more
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Published December 14th 2008 by Back Bay Books (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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Jun 12, 2009 Todd rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Extremely sentimental, A Drinking Life waxes nostalgic while deftly building a case for the rationality of Hamill's alcoholism. From reading most of the book's reviews, it seems to have worked. Three-quarters of the novel are devoted to the first 14 years of Hamill's life; it's obvious to this reader, if not to Hamill, that most of the book is an excuse and a dishonest apology for his alcoholic behavior. The prose is good enough, it's well-written in that sense, but it lacks the brutal honesty o ...more
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
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
Nov 10, 2015 Namrata rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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

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
A pretty straightforward and candid story of how an alcoholic becomes, well, an alcoholic. Hamill grew up in pubs, his father drank, his mother tolerated it, and as he became a man, he understood that men drink. It wasn't til later in life that Hamill began to realize how drink was killing him.
This is not a maudling account, nor is it histrionic.
I picked this up because I read "Snow in August" and while I didn't love that fiction story, I liked Hamill's style. "Snow in August" was written afte
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.
Peter Knox
Mar 23, 2016 Peter Knox rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A well written memoir of growing up in the 1940s in Park Slope Brooklyn, as the son of immigrant parents working and drinking during WWII, falling in love with comics, girls, fitting in, fighting, drinking, learning, art, sex, drinking, traveling, writing, working, and finding himself.

Hamill does an excellent job setting the scenes, bringing us into his world, but keeping us at an objective distance to see what he cannot when he's in too deep in his relationships, career, art, family, gangs, and
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....
David Baird
Jul 01, 2015 David Baird rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like many, I picked up this book on account of it being a tale of alcoholism, but found it to be so much more than that. Fascinating and mesmerising, painting the portrait of Pete growing up a misfit in post-war Brooklyn, where booze, fights and conformity were expected, encouraged even.

Pete seems to lurch from one crisis and disaster to the next, but he's an intelligent (if not always smart) fellow and nevertheless finds his way in the end living, sold would say, a full and exciting life along
Mar 07, 2015 Adam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This a pretty quick read, both because of the length (fewer than 270 pages) and the straightforward writing style (one of the blurbs on the back, by Elmore Leonard no less!, comments that Hamill doesn't waste a word).

The story follows the author's life, as he remembers it, from its start through age 35 or so, 20 years before he wrote the book. Central to the story is the relationship with alcohol that the author, his father, friends, and colleagues had during that period and how it informed, aff
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.

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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
“The world was a grand confusion. Finally, when I was drunk, and my mind couldn’t do what I wanted it to do, I went home. I would lie alone In the dark, feeling that I was a character in a story that had lost its plot.”
Sann “Don’t ever use the word tragedy again. You tell what happened, and let the reader say it’s a tragedy. If you’re crying, the reader won’t.”
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