Drinking in America

Drinking in America coverDrinking in America: Our Secret History

Submitter:  I stumbled upon this tome while browsing my local library branch. Now, as a craft beer drinker and writer about said subject, I already own several excellent books on alcoholic drink and its history and societal and cultural impact, both somewhat positive and somewhat critical. This book presented itself as exactly this kind of book in its cover blurbs, so I eagerly checked it out. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a classic “bait and switch”–it instead was somewhere between a history of alcoholism in the United States and a polemic attempting to frame America’s shortcomings and failures on alcoholism, all disguised as social history of alcoholic beverages.

Holly: I’m going to paraphrase the rest of the  submission, since it was quite long, in bullet points:

  • The author and her father were both AA participants. Submitter equates that fact to the idea that you’d also be distrustful of “a history of zoos written by a PETA member,” for example.
  • Submitter says that the book cites urban legends as fact. For example, “Did you know the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock because they ran out of beer?”
  • The book claims that Ulysses S. Grant lost Civil War strategies due to his heavy drinking, that JFK was assassinated because Secret Service agents were hungover, that Nixon was a high-functioning drunk, that George W. Bush compulsively searched for Iraqi WMDs because of his past alcoholism.
  • The book ignores noted Democratic scandals like “Ted Kennedy’s ill-fated drive at Chappaquiddick” (quote from submission).
  • Submitter wonders if “fake news” and “badly-biased or blatantly false” history accounts belong in public libraries. Submitter says “…when books present blatantly misleading or demonstrably false accounts as “fact” or “history” it behooves librarians to question supplying them for reading, no matter how popular they may be or how much traffic they generate.”

Holly (continued): I’m not a historian. My husband owns a brewery and is a brewer, but my authority ends with drinking! I I do like to think I’m an authority on collection development, though. It reminds me of the Kevin Trudeau books of the 1990s and the James Frey book A Million Little Pieces from the early 2000s. We have a responsibility to make accurate information available to our patrons. We also have a responsibility to provide materials on a variety of viewpoints. There are so many discussion points here! Go ahead and light up the comments. (Side note: I love the cover!)

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