Not so unusual to have a madman close to running our country considering America was founded upon the abuse of alcohol. Susan Cheever’s slight but pleasing “Drinking in America” clarifies our major malfunction, beginning with the Mayflower’s decision to put in at Plymouth only because they’d run out of beer. Those Revolutionary War stories of political and strategy meetings? In taverns, patriots shitfaced. Americans taking on well-armed British regiments despite being outgunned? Shitfaced. Civil War drags on for four years? Shitfaced generals. Temperance movement? Women tired of shitfaced men coming home from work shitfaced –or maimed because they were shitfaced while working. And publishers, if you’re looking for someone to hire, I would’ve pushed for “Shitfaced in America” as title, if you were wondering how to sell 25% more copies. Susan: call me.
Nice to read this prior to Joseph Alexiou’s “Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal,” at least for context on the very central role the Gowanus creek played in the Battle of Brooklyn. Not Alexiou’s fault that his book slogs through a 19th century swamp of boring city projects and political chicanery — some excellent takeways, nonetheless, for local NYC history junkies: baseball played on ice skates for a time in Gowanus, and the particular history of getting Prospect Park planned. Of course the startling pollution of the canal and recent efforts to rethink it are solid, as is the section on the arts community’s use of the factories lining the canal in the 80s heyday of NYC visual art. Would have been interested to know how many of them have cancer now, given the coal tar and lord-known-what-else they were exposed to, and sometimes used as site-specific installation materials.