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Drinking in America: Our Secret History

Historian, biographer and novelist Susan Cheever (E.E. Cummings) believes drinking has been an underlying force shaping the American story from the 17th century to the present. She launches her engrossing, insightful narrative with the Mayflower, which transported 200 barrels of alcohol to the New World. Adults and children both consumed beer for sustenance and health, as water stockpiled in barrels onboard grew fetid. Running out of beer was a major reason the Pilgrims landed at Cape Cod and not further south. Ten years later, the Puritans jump-started the American brewing industry.

Cheever winds through the Whiskey Rebellion; Johnny Appleseed's frontier apple orchards that led to healthy apple cider production and, later, 66 proof applejack; Meriwether Lewis's reliance on whiskey in building the Erie Canal; the rum trade's connection to slavery; and the Civil War, where liquor often helped turn the tide of battle.

Cheever cites many examples of how alcohol and drinking have been divisive and destructive forces that have brought "pain... and incompetence" to the history of our national landscape. But she makes an equally effective and compelling historical case for how "drinking is a cherished American custom--a way to celebrate and a way to grieve and a way to take the edge off. It brings people together." --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines