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Sweet and Low: A Family Story Hardcover – April 4, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
The fulcrum of the story--both in terms of the dynamics of the family and also as their most neatly distilled image--is Aunt Gladys, who lives reclusively in her frigid brooklyn bedroom (she keeps it at meat locker temperatures) and, though partially crippled, still waits on her emotionally withholding mother; amid Cohen's delightfully comedic descriptions, Gladys is a ghoul who wanders in off the heath: Gladys, who ties up and strikes her own mother; Gladys, who in her frigid inner-sanctum has recreated the conditions of the womb that bore her.
Gladys and her mom are worth many tens of millions of dollars, but, as the saying goes, there are something things that money just can't buy.
One of the most fascinating parts of the book is the scandal that the Sweet & Low company got caught up in. Cohen shows that money is just as corrosive to the brain as it is to the soul, as he chronicles how his uncle "Marvelous" Marvin Eisenstadt brought an organized crime figure into the business, was raided by the FBI, and nearly lost the whole kitty.
Cohen writes that the one benefit he has derived from being disinherited is the ability to write this book (and it is a great story), but his real fortune is in having been delivered from the influence of these people at an early age, and thus, having been given the ability to lead a happy and normal life.
Ostensibly a story about the discovery of the first widely used sugar substitute, the Cumberland Packing Corporation which packages it and the company's successes and failures, "Sweet and Low" is really about the men and women in the Eisenstadt/Cohen family and what life was like under the surface. Patriarch Benjamin Eisenstadt, the hard luck/good luck founder of the company is the rock that holds the family together. Beyond that, look out. There's the agoraphobic, housebound Aunt Gladys, Uncle ("marvelous") Marvin, the eternal man-child son of Ben, vitriolic grandma Betty and suicidal great-grandma, Bubba. Reading "Sweet and Low" is like watching a tv variety show without the tv. Yet it is author Cohen who really puts everything in perspective. What makes this book so enjoyable is the writing and it is, indeed, very good. Cohen has a way of not only grabbing the reader's attention, but holding it, then guiding it through the twists and turns of his family's "behavior". It is a tour de force. While the author allows himself some bitter feelings (perhaps more wistful, had everyone gotten along) he nonetheless has some nice things to say. His ability to stick the knife in cleanly is balanced by a notion that while people may have bad attributes they aren't necessarily bad people.
"Sweet and Low" could have been just a kiss-and-tell book about a family gone awry. It's much better than that and it's due to Rich Cohen and his marvelous way of telling the family story. I loved "Sweet and Low" and encourage readers to purchase a copy and enjoy it.
The titular head is Benjamin Eisenstadt who gave us the sugar substitute SWEET N' LOW. The real power in this matriarchy, however is his wife Betty who believed that love is a scarce commodity that could be depleted and so should be doled out sparingly.
Author Cohen has taken hard facts (uncovered through research and interviews) and made them come alive, giving us memorable portraits of Ben and Betty's children: the reclusive yet controlling Aunt Gladys, Unknowing Uncle Marvelous, morally constipated Uncle Ira and finally his caring and naive mother Ellen, who is an easy mark for her greedy siblings.
After Ben died, his wife inexplicably changed their will disinheriting Ellen and her issue, one of whom is Rich Cohen. Ah ha! This should explain the author's motive, but surprisingly his prose is even handed, objective and supported by concrete evidence.
Above all, "SWEET AND LOW" ia a ripping read that is not only funny, but provocative. At the end you find yourself wanting more -- especially the answers to these questions:
1. Why was Rich's Mom and her children "really" disenherited?
2. Why did Uncle Marvelous compared to Martha Stewart and Leona Helsley, get off so lightly?
3. What else did the author find out that he left out or was edited from the book (page 12, "No, no. It's fine. He's not asking about that.")?
Having listened to Mr. Cohen on NPR bemoan the loss of his extended family and re-reading the end of this book, I believe there's more to be told. So perhaps he can give us "the rest of the story" with a sequel, "SWEET AND LOW - PART II."
Very highly recommended.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
So many typos in the Kindle edition that it detracts from the perceived quality of the writing. Get it together, guys.Published 20 days ago by ModPodge
I love non fiction biography about entrepreneurs, including the titans of industry such as JP Morgan, Rockefeller and Vanderbilt. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Jack Gilbert
Quite an interesting story of the family and their plight in producing "Sweet and Low" a sugar substitute..Published 7 months ago by tweety
I really like Rich Cohen's books(maybe because we are north shore Jews of the same age) and this one is no exception. Read morePublished 8 months ago by andrew review
This is a fantastic book. The story is very interesting and Rich Cohen has a special gift of being able to interweave numerous stories in a seamless manner. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Adam J. Loewy
Rich Cohen is a great writer, and I really enjoyed this book. It was a very entertaining way to learn some of the history of artificial sweeteners (or sugar substitutes).Published on January 21, 2014 by Erin S.
what a story. you just can't believe it. you'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll shout angry words and then you'll give it to your best friend and hope they give it back to you when... Read morePublished on November 11, 2013 by frank silverstein
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... Read morePublished on September 15, 2013 by BOB
I certainly learned much more than I cared to know about this family. Sometimes, it's better just to know as an outsider and enjoy the product. Read morePublished on October 22, 2012 by Amazon Customer