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A Drinking Life: A Memoir Paperback – April 1, 1995

4.3 out of 5 stars 113 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hamill's autobiography entails his long odyssey to sobriety. This is not a jeremiad condemning drink, however, but a thoughtful, funny, street-smart reflection on its consequences. To understand Hamill ( Loving Women ), one must know his immigrant parents: Anne, gentle and fair; Billy, one-legged and alcoholic. The first offspring of this union--Republicans in Belfast, Democrats in Brooklyn--Hamill has a special gift for relating the events of his childhood. He recreates a time extinct, a Brooklyn of trolley cars, Dodgers, pails of beer and pals like No Toes Nocera. He recalls such adventures as the Dodgers' 1941 pennant and viewing the liner Normandie lying on its side in the Hudson River. We partake in the glory of V-J day and learn what life in Hamill's neighborhood was centered on: "Part of being a man was to drink." Puberty hits him and booze helps him to overcome his sexual shyness. But Hamill's childhood ended early. After dropping out of high school he lived on his own, working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and drinking with his workmates. Wanting more, he studied art, soon meeting a nude model named Laura who was a lot different from the neighborhood girls, those "noble defenders of the holy hymen." And escape was always on Hamill's mind. First it was the Navy, then Mexico, but it was always the same--drinking nights which today he can't remember. There were fist-fights and jail time in Mexico and he learned that "drinking could be a huge fuck you to Authority." Back home with a job at the New York Post , he mastered his trade at the Page One bar every morning, drinking with other reporters. Much time was spent in saloons away from his wife and two daughters and he remembers the taunts of his childhood, "Your old man's an Irish drunk!" Then one New Year's Eve 20 years ago he noticed all the drunkenness and had his last vodka. When asked why, he said, "I have no talent for it." It may be the only talent Hamill lacks. Author tour.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Readers expecting a gossipy "How I became a newspaper man" autobiography won't find it in reporter-novelist Hamill's first nonfiction book. The title notwithstanding, this is also no powerful Days of Wine and Roses memoir. Hamill devotes many pages to an almost year-by-year account of his Depression and World War II Brooklyn childhood. The son of Irish immigrants, Hamill soon learns about the "culture of drinking" from his alcoholic father. Hamill at first seeks escape through pulp fiction and comic books (he longs to be a cartoonist), but as a teenager he gets drunk with his street pals and becomes sexually confident under booze's liberating influence. The rest of Hamill's book is a sketchy overview of his Navy years, his turbulent first marriage, his early career at the New York Post , and of course his "drinking life." While a skillful writer, Hamill strangely fails to convey the true horror of alcoholism. Recommended for libraries where his novels are popular. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/93-- Wilda Wil liams, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 265 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books (April 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316341029
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316341028
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #138,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jessica Lux on November 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
I picked this up because it was referenced in Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story, and the two are often cross-marketed on Amazon.com. 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 friends, a way to get through your anger, a way to be social in the Neighborhood, and a way to relate to your co-workers as a newspaperman. In Hamill's boyhood, it was a point of pride in the Neighborhood to be able to handle your liquor, not to be a drunk, but to keep a steady stream of drinking while trading jokes and stories and songs.

Hamill doesn't push any kind of 12-step program in this book. He got sober on his own, in a snap, and he is unusual in his ability to do so. For this reason, for alcoholics looking to relate and to get some insight into their disease, I would recommend Caroline Knapp's book instead. For anyone looking for a fascinating memoir, a touching journey through life, and an inside look and the life of being a reporter, Hamill's memoir is highly recommended.
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A Drinking Life is really an autobiographical memoir. Hamill is the son of an Irish immigrant and finds that the culture of drink is part of the culture of being a man. However, he also watched his father, who was a fall down alcoholic through his life growing up, and thus recalled the pain it imposed on his family's life.
In the course of telling his story, Hamill reveals that he was a person who was constantly going from place to place, all over the world. What exactly he is searching for, he never really reveals. But eventually, he does come to grips with the fact that the Drinking Life is detrimental to his continued existence.
One of his greatest lines in the entire book is in his introduction when he states, "But life doesn't get easier when you walk away from the culture of drink; you simply live it with greater lucidity." The book is a fine example of someone who eventually realizes that life is "better" if not easier, without his addiction. The book is an inspiring story and I recommend it to all observers of social behavior.
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Format: Paperback
I grew up 8 blocks from where Pete Hamill grew up in virtually the same type of apartment with virtually the same type of family (albeit 25 years later). I felt like I was reading my life. He realistically and dramatically captures the attitudes and bigotries of Park Slope Brooklyn at that time, the indifference of the Catholic church to the actual needs of it's congregants, the absence of fathers because of their need to be in the "fill in the blank" Irish Bar down the block". For his dad it was Rattigan's for mine it was McGrorities but the resulting effects were very similar.

I was shocked when I realized after finishing the book, he was accepted to Regis, which meant he must have had at least a 98% on the acceptance test. This was the toughest Catholic Boy's high school in New York to get into, only the "best of the best" were allowed entry. Getting accepted to Regis is parallel to getting into the Harvard of High Schools and Pete Hamill dropped out. What a tragedy! Then it hit me...it was his drinking at 15 that caused that. Point made Pete. You didn't have to say it, it was right there between the lines.

Mr. Hamill's writing style in this work is captivating in a way that the reader feels right there with him in the candy store, at the kitchen table drawing cartoons or on 23rd Street when he was 16 waiting for his 41 year old lover.

I totally loved and enjoyed this book and was very sad when I finished it. I am now an official Pete Hamill fan!
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Format: Paperback
Pete Hamill's name should be familiar to everyone in the New York area: in addition to rubbing shoulders and bending elbows with New York City's elite, his celebrated articles in the NY Post eventually landed him the highly coveted job of editor. In A Drinking Life, Hamill recounts the story of his life, with a particular emphasis on his childhood in Brooklyn. The son of a heavy-drinking, one-legged, Irish immigrant, Hamill lost his innocence early and found refuge drawing his own comic books and playing the street tough. This dichotomy seems to follow him throughout his life: on the one hand his roots have made him a brawler, a drinker, and a swaggering toughguy; on the other, him mother's influence helped to shape a sensitive young man who couldn't stand the site of blood on the face of his street fight victims and who longed for the life of a bohemian artist in Greenwich Village. In time, Hamill leaves his drawing and illustrating behind and begins to write.
Throughout all of this, there is much drinking; however, to call this a book about alcoholism would be inaccurate. This is a memoir of a life... one to which drinking is inextricably tethered, but not one that revolves around the art of drinking. Hamill began drinking early, and then as a reporter spent most of his time in bars, and his storytelling ability leaves no doubt that he was probably the center of attention in these bars more often than not. In the end he kicks the habit, for fear that he has been peforming his life rather than living it. He still visits his old drinking haunts, but now sits there quietly with a Coke in hand.
This memoir is well told, and Hamill sees himself with a very clear eye.
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