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"Drinking History" is a look at the beverages popular with Americans through our history, from Native Americans and the colonists to the present day. The author linked various events in American history to changes in which beverages are popular to drink. It's written with a casual tone and is an easy read.

There was a minor amount of repetition as some events caused more than one beverage to catch on. Sometimes, near the end of a chapter, the narrative turned into lists of which company bought out which company over the years. I was more interested in the descriptions of the events (political and/or technological) that caused a change of drinking patterns or the creation of new beverages, and that's what made up most of the book. Overall, I'd recommend this interesting and enjoyable book.

The chapters covered: what the colonists drank and why; rum, tea, whiskey, hard cider, beer, milk, cocktails, juices, soft drinks, Kool-Aid, flavored milk, sports and energy drinks, wine, water and bottled water, and coffee. While exploring these beverages, we also learned about events leading to the Revolutionary War, the Temperance Movement, Prohibition, etc., and about people like Johnny Appleseed. We also occasionally got an old recipe telling how a certain beverage was made. There was a lot of information on how drinks were marketed to make them popular as well as surprising health concerns about various drinks and how drink producers overcame those concerns.

I received this book as an eBook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.
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on December 2, 2012
Every so often you come across a book that you never imagined there would be a need for, yet once you start looking at it you feel such a fool for your naivety. This is one of those books.

In short, a book that looks at the individuals, ingredients, corporations, controversies and events that helped shape America's beverages during the country's relatively-short history. Starting with those who sailed over on the Mayflower and the cultural changes they were forced to suffer, in part due to their own actions, the author really seems to have been busy with his research.

Alcohol played a very central role in the early days and the shortage of many ingredients led to their own challenges, requiring much innovation, determination and a lot of trial and error. Non-alcoholic drinks such as coffee, tea and chocolate started to make their mark as well, with tea playing an important role in the fight for American independence later on. But things were not as universal as one might imagine and, as the book notes, because coffee, tea, and chocolate were unaffordable or unavailable on the western frontier (then just a few hundred miles from the Eastern Seaboard), colonists there made do with substitutes such as burned rye, parched beets, peas, potatoes, and a variety of herbs, roots, barks, and leaves.

Many raw ingredients that would be used for beverage production were imported and, where possible, planted to provide domestic crops. It is not possible to summarise everything included in this very comprehensive book. Split into fifteen quirkily-named chapters of Colonial Diversity; An Essential Ingredient in American Independence; Tea Parties; Tarantula Juice; Cider's Last Hurrah; The Most Popular Drink of the Day; Nature's Perfect Food; The Most Delightful and Insinuating Potations; Unfermented Wine; The Temperance Beverage; To Root Out a Bad Habit; Youth Beverages; Judgment of Paris; The Only Proper Drink for Man and Double Half-caf Sumatra Latte, Low-fat Soy - this book is a veritable reference tome.

You can see from the chapters that the author takes you through the years and right up to the current time with the often confusing array of coffee options and their confusing terminology that plague modern-day coffee houses. Oh for the days of a simple coffee!

This book manages to combine academic research and writing with everyday accessibility and interesting reading, so both groups of consumers will find something of interest. This is more than just a beverage book, but a great overview of historical, sociological and culinary matters. At the end of the book is a very comprehensive bibliography that can guide the reader to even more interesting sources of information should they so desire. Columbia University Press books usually have a great index too but this review copy did not possess an index so we cannot comment on that.

Books like this deserve a wider readership than they probably will get. This would be an ideal book for a newspaper or magazine serialisation that would encourage more readers to take a look as they will be hooked after just a few pages. This acts as a companion title to the author's "Eating History: Thirty Turning Points in the Making of American Cuisine" title that was equally well-researched and well-written and well worth a read in its own right.
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on November 21, 2012
Who knew how big the impact of beverages on American culture really is? In his book Drinking History Andrew F. Smith introduces the reader to a history of drinking in the United States, from Colonial times, when beer ran out and colonists had to make do with plain water, straight to today's low-fat soy latte from the nearest coffee-shop of your choice.
I've always been drawn to books that explore the history of things, probably because history class back in school has been rather dull, and looking at our past from a slightly different angle is something that accommodates my curiosity more than the apparent lack of enthusiasm my history teachers showed.
As far as factual information goes this book has it all - each chapter brings you some historical background, dips into how certain beverages were produced, shares how people's tastes changed over the years, and obviously major events such as the Prohibition are in the spotlight too.
Sadly, my interest in the doubtlessly fascinating topic, and my appreciation for a presentation of facts in a brief and succinct format, collided with the writing style which is bordering heavily on school book charm. I expect my non fiction fare to be a bit more lively and a little less dry, and hadn't it been for the segments on typical American beverages, eg Root Beer or Dr. Pepper, which I personally found the most interesting, my verdict would have been less favorable.
In short: Shaken, but definitely not stirred!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the NetGalley book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
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on October 10, 2013
Let's see: repeated facts, inconsistently laid-out facts, contestable facts (without any addressing of same in either the pages where they occur or in the footnotes or endnotes sections), grammatical errors... This mess of a history is so full of the above complaints that I wouldn't know where to start listing just one.
I really wanted to read this thing all the way through. I was willing to overlook the incredibly sloppy writing... but eventually it got to a point where I just simply could not go on any further.
This author writes like a 10-year-old; sure, perhaps an A-student lad, but still...
Did any editor ever actually read (or try to read) this calamity?
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