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A Drinking Life

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  3,218 ratings  ·  275 reviews
This bestselling memoir from a seasoned New York City reporter is "a vivid report of a journey to the edge of self-destruction" (New York Times).
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
Paperback, 280 pages
Published April 1st 1995 by Back Bay Books (first published 1994)
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Average rating 3.90  · 
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 ·  3,218 ratings  ·  275 reviews

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Jim Golden
Mar 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
MJ Beauchamp
May 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
How can you not love Pete Hamill...? In this remarkably candid memoir Hamill opens up about a lifelong love/hate relationship with alcohol, recounting his upbringing and dreams - all memories revolving around the power and comfort of a drink. I knew of Pete Hamill, newspaperman and writer with heart, reporting on his New York with only true love and soul, but I did not know the extent of it... A Drinking Life reveals the man and the boy behind the stories, in all his sensitivity and ...more
Jul 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Very well done Pete Hamill.
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I often think I can't remember that much about my childhood, comparatively speaking. You know those people who can provide you intricate detail of what they wore, and how they felt towards every teacher they ever had, and aesthetic details about houses? I thought I did not belong among them, until I read this book. It is probably very strange that a memoir set from World War Two onward, set in New York City, about a poor Irish American kid, would prompt such strong memories for me (and an ...more
Sep 10, 2011 rated it liked it
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 ...more
May 11, 2010 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Spider the Doof Warrior
Aug 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Dan Mccoig
Jun 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Patrick O'Neil
Jul 12, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Apr 23, 2008 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Tim O'Hearn
Jan 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
I can certainly understand why high schools select Angela's Ashes instead of A Drinking Life. This could never be read or analyzed in a classroom filled with minors. But the message is more powerful; the story more thrilling. The author, in my opinion, a better one. Frank McCourt, rest his soul, was accused of exaggerating his poverty (including by his own mother). Pete Hamill's account, by my inspection, never blurs the line between what sounds good and what actually happened. Pete's account is ...more
May 04, 2009 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Benjamin baschinsky
Nov 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
A no hold barred story of his upbringing in a tough working man’s area of Brooklyn.
He had many hopes and aspirations growing up, however he had much trouble succeeding .
Mr Hamil has what is commonly referred to as the Irish Curse.
A heavy drinker following in his father’s tradition .
Made me wince on many occasions as to the amount of beer consumed .
Well written.
Jim Jackson
Jul 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Jul 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Pete Hamill nailed it at the end when he talked about “acting” at life vs. living life. It’s this authenticity – this striving for whatever it is that’s real that’s driven me in my own life. And it’s the escapism in substances that’s illusionary in that the positive it offers is intense and as short as a second. The problem is the negatives always outweigh it no matter how you try to rationalize it. And the negatives increase the longer the use continues.

I thought this book as centered around
John Hintz
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have read ten or more drinking memoirs in the past couple of months, as I try to assess the role of alcohol in my life. This and Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story are my two favorites. But unlike Knapp's, which very much is a drinking memoir, Hamill's book is more of a complete memoir. A Life much more than just a "drinking" life. Alcohol is not central to many parts of the book, even though it's always there. And there is no moralizing whatsoever. (Of course, no memoir worth its salt ...more
Daina Fanning
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was an amazing book. Vividly written and painted a picture of the author’s personal struggles and the world at large in the 50’s to 70’s.
Steve Moskowitz
May 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
I really enjoyed this book. It was a great page Turner. The beginning is better then the end.
Aug 23, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Jun 27, 2012 rated it it was ok
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

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
Isaac Babel's Ghost
Feb 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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, ...more
Sep 22, 2019 rated it liked it
I picked this book up out of desperation for something, anything to read…and I must admit that the title clinched the deal. “A Drinking Life” – I couldn’t resist. Drama, angst, highs, lows…it’s all right there in the title.

What I wasn’t expecting was a book that depicts a time, place and way of life that has always fascinated me. One of the reasons I love “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” is the vivid and at the same time, faded sepia description of a New York, and an America that I never knew. I’ve
Jan 21, 2014 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 15, 2007 rated it it was ok
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.
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....
Dec 10, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: bio-memoir
I would have been satisfied with a reader's digest version
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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 ...more
“I would understand later that baseball was what truly made him an American: the sports pages were more crucial documents than the Constitution.” 5 likes
“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
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