|TL 61:1 Book Reviews|
Carson, Gerald. The Social History of Bourbon.
This volume is the paperback edition of The Social History of Bourbon, an Unhurried Account of Our Star-Spangled American Drink originally published in 1963. Besides a “Forward to the New Edition,” nothing new has been added to this edition, rather, part of the original title has been eliminated. The only information give in this volume about its author, Gerald Carson, are his dates, 1899-1989, and that he “was the author of several books of social history.”
The “Forward” acknowledges that “There are some facts that Carson simply gets wrong, especially where he depends on distilleries for information.” So while this book is an entertaining read, written in a casual style and full of humorous anecdotes, it cannot be considered an actual history in anything but the broadest sense.
That is not to say it should be dismissed out of hand. As long as the reader/researcher keeps in mind that it is not authoritative, s/he will find much of interest here. Chapters like “The First True Bourbon,” and “But – What Is Whiskey?” are quite informative; “Whiskey Fun And Folklore” is an enjoyable read. From the chapter “The Swinging Door” this comment is especially interesting:
Prohibition was a struggle between the rural voters and the rising power of the cities. It was fundamentalist religion reacting to immigration and the flourishing Roman Catholic communion. It was middle-class American morality and the traditional folkways aligned against a fast-changing technology. It was the Ku Klux Klan and the lodges and the vocal women.
But again, the serious reader will have to look elsewhere for authoritative sources to back up this statement. Carson does provide extensive Chapter Notes and an Index. Also helpful are a Chronology and Glossary, the former helping to put Bourbon in its rightful place in history and the latter enabling one to become conversant in liquor jargon.
Given the light tone and unreliable information found in The Social History of Bourbon, it will be of interest only to those libraries with extensive collections in the social history of the South.
Lost Memphis is an attractive little paperback giving a glimpse of places and happenings from Memphis’s past. Author Laura Cunningham, a native of Memphis, holds a Master’s degree in history and works at the Memphis Public Library. She previously authored the book Haunted Memphis.
A flip through the book is like taking a stroll through the bygone days of Memphis. The book is divided into seven chapters: The Early Years, Agriculture: Cotton Was King and Carnival Queens, Transportation and the Mississippi River, Serving the Public, Corner Shops and Mom and Pops, Doing Business in Memphis, Entertainments and Amusements, and Memphians at War. Each chapter begins with one to three pages of text that provides a historical context to the photos that follow, in contrast to similar books such as the Images of America series by Arcadia Publishing. The book contains 179 images, mostly from the late 1800s or early 1900s, with some that are more contemporary. The reproduction quality of these vintage images is good, with one or two photos featured on each page. The book closes with an index of locations and topical terms.
Unfortunately, Lost Memphis suffers a significant flaw: There is no bibliography or list of references for the historical information presented, nor source information for images. Presumably, the majority of the photos were uncovered in the Memphis and Shelby County Room at Memphis Public Library. In addition, given the book’s focus on “the vanished landmarks and bygone ways of life,” I wish it more consistently identified the exact location and fate of included buildings. (Some captions do identify structures that have burned or were demolished and when some facilities closed.)
A handful of the included images have appeared in earlier works about Memphis, most notably Memphis: A Pictorial History by Kitty Plunket (1976), which covers similar ground with more detail. However, Lost Memphis does a better job of including African Americans, and it is still likely to be popular among patrons interested in local history. Because of the value of the archival images it contains, this book would be a worthwhile addition to public libraries or regional history collections.
Jerianne Thompson, Collection Development Coordinator
Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda is an interesting overview of the history of artificial sweeteners. It is not comprehensive as de la Peña glosses over a group of sweeteners known as cyclamates because they were banned so early on in their lifecycle. The two primary sweeteners in the book are saccharin and aspartame, with Splenda and other, newer sweeteners covered in a single chapter. While Ms. de la Peña does not go in depth about the creation of these sweeteners, she does examine, quite in-depth the marketing and promotion methods used to bring these sweeteners to the American grocery shelves.
In addition to the methods used to bring artificial sweeteners to market, the book also discusses the reactions of society to the introduction of artificial sweeteners. Empty Pleasures looks at society’s reactions to and how artificial sweeteners moved away from having a negative reputation given their artificiality to being staunchly defended by the public as vital parts of the American diet. Again, the book is not comprehensive on this matter, as the focus is primarily on the female reaction to artificial sweeteners and the marketing of sweeteners to women. De la Peña does a thorough job of researching both the marketing of artificial sweeteners and society’s response to them. Numerous footnotes are provided, and several interesting advertisements, corporate publications and illustrations are also reprinted in the book.
When read in conjunction with books such as Omnivore’s Dilemma, Fast Food Nation and Food Matters, Empty Pleasures provides an approachable history of some of the changes that have occurred in American food consumption and helps to connect changes in American buying habits with changes in American eating habits. Empty Pleasures also provides an illuminating look at the power of marketing and the amount of influence savvy magazine editors and marketers can have on the American consumer spending and lifestyle.
Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda fits in well with books like those by Michael Pollan, Mark Bitten and Eric Schlosser. It is recommended for public library collections and academic libraries who are looking for books that address industrialized food or marketing issues.
Courtney Fuson, Electronic and Educational Resources Librarian
Based on the author’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Tennessee, this well documented history records the causes and effects of the war known as the “Second Creek War” or the “Creek War of 1836.” Although the American army general declared victory in 1836, the author explains that the battle continued for several more years and over three states before the majority of the Creek nation was removed to the West. It was this removal, plus the poverty, debt, and depression caused by the greedy whites from Georgia and Alabama that the Creeks fought against. Not only did they have to fight the state and federal militia but also some of their own people who sided with the whites for their own survival.
This is a story of the Creek Indians of what was then called “New Alabama.” It shows the greed and duplicity of the Southern whites, especially the business men from Georgia who coveted the fertile new land perfect for growing cotton and other crops. That the land belonged to the Creeks made no difference. The Southern whites wanted the Creeks removed to the West but they proceeded to drain them of any land or money so they couldn’t start over even if they wanted to leave the land of their ancestors. The Upper Creeks were accomodationists and were removed willingly for the most part. But the impoverished Lower Creeks had no option but to fight back, starting the war. And they might have won if the Upper Creeks and maybe even the Cherokee of Tennessee had joined them. The militias and armies had little luck because the Creeks would strike and then disappear into the swamps of Alabama, Georgia, and finally, Florida. What makes this book so interesting is that the author gives us a timeline of sorts, telling the story as it unfolded and giving hints about the thinking of the main characters taken from letters, government documents and other primary sources.
There are 44 pages of notes at the back of the book that might have been more useful as footnotes, but still informative where they are. The author also includes an eleven page bibliography, a comprehensive index, and seven well placed maps. This book is recommended for anyone interested in Native American history and both public and academic libraries.
As a newcomer to Memphis, I have noticed that none of the buildings have basements, despite the city being high on a bluff. Patrick O’Daniel’s history of the 1937 flood that “crested at an all-time record of 48.7 feet” helps explain why: “People did not consider the events of 1927 and 1937 an aberration but rather the beginning of a trend of superfloods.”
O’Daniel, a Memphis librarian, has turned his master’s thesis into an accessible history of a natural disaster that is richly illustrated and thoroughly documented. While academic readers may wish for a deeper coverage of the issues of bossism and racial segregation that form integral parts of his narrative, general readers (high school and above) will find it an engaging work that brings to light a mostly-forgotten event whose enormous influence on the civil engineering program of the Mississippi River valley is still felt.
In 1927 a disastrous flood devastated the Mississippi Valley, and the disaster relief efforts marked the first large-scale federal involvement in such affairs. As O’Daniel demonstrates, a similar flood in 1937 made a much smaller impact on the national consciousness – largely because of lessons learned a decade earlier. Flood control and prevention work expanded from reliance on levees to include “floodways, channel improvements, and stabilization and tributary basin improvements,” so that the flood, while covering more acres than 1927’s disaster, produced a slower stream that did less damage to levees.
More importantly, officials in Memphis handled the stream of refugees from flooded farming communities who sought shelter in the Bluff City. E.H. “Boss” Crump, the most powerful man in the city, prevailed upon his machine to coordinate the efforts of the Red Cross, city and county government, and federal “alphabet soup” agencies to provide for the thousands of displaced persons who made their way to Memphis. As the water rose higher, Crump organized this labor force to reinforce levees and man pumping stations, so that, while damage was done to the city, the magnitude of disaster was smaller than most feared it would be.
O’Daniel provides plenty of first-hand accounts that vividly illustrate the effects of the flood, as well as details of life in the 1930’s: a benefit evening that featured not only music, but also a human seal act and a slingshot marksman; men dressed in bowlers and spats to attend the cinema; and chickens on sale for a nickel.
The facts of racial discrimination in Memphis are not overlooked: segregation of refugees by race and sex (separating families in the process), the low priority given to protecting African-American neighborhoods from the flood, and forced conscription of African-American men to work on the levees. Police officers were stationed outside theaters on Beale Street and seized men as the performances let out.
While the narrative focuses on the events of early 1937, O’Daniel glancingly covers other topics including the rise of Crump’s machine, and the transformation of Memphis from a trading post to a manufacturing center. A reader unfamiliar with Memphis history might wish for more coverage of such topics, but the extensive references provide plenty of suggestions for further reading.
A significant deficit of the book is the complete absence of maps. The text mentions so many places that an atlas of the Mississippi Valley and a city map of Memphis should be on hand for the reader to remain oriented.
Steven A. Knowlton
With this third entry in his Joe Dillard series author Scott Pratt more than makes good on his website description of his hero as a flawed man. More than flawed, Dillard is not a person you want to have your side. Should you find yourself in his orbit be prepared to have any manner of horrible event happen to you, whether you be his wife, colleague, friend or enemy. Perhaps this is the accepted style of the lawyer thriller but it can be pulled off better than this. This easy read, perfect for the beach or airplane, and may well appeal to those who enjoy the Patricia Cornwell/James Patterson style of murder and mayhem.
Joe Dillard is a former defense attorney turned prosecutor. The book opens with his best friend helping to save Joe’s son’s life. Wait until you read how he is repaid for that act. Keeping track of the plot tangents in the book makes plot summary difficult. Suffice it to say that Joe Dillard’s objective is winning justice for all!
The settings are primarily in northeast Tennessee, where the author resides, which makes is appealing to denizens of the state in that regard. One of the main secondary characters (there are lots and lots of these) starts off with a compelling back story that is told in a compassionate, humane manner; a rarity in this book. But just wait until you read what happens to her.
Many of the so-called professional characters in the book behave so ridiculously it is difficult to lend any credibility to them. The situations are so outlandish and implausible that I spent too much of the novel scoffing at every third event.
Scott Pratt’s book bio casts him as something of a Renaissance man. He certainly expresses a love of writing on his web site, and for that I applaud him, but I suggest that he not believe too much of his own good press and spend some time reading classics in the lawyer-thriller genre to avoid some of the pitfalls he fell into this third time out.
Ah, fruitcake! According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “Fruitcake” is “(a) a cake containing fruit; … (c) slang (orig. U.S.), a crazy or eccentric person; one who is insane; cf. nutty as a fruit-cake s.v. NUTTY.” This book review is intended to discuss the former definition, not the latter; although, some think the two definitions go hand-in-hand. The oft maligned “fruitcake” has become the butt of many a joke… equating this holiday treat with that of an inedible delicacy which more practically makes a handy dandy holiday door stop for the unwilling recipient.
Because of fruitcake’s bad reputation, it is nearly impossible to see beyond the stereotype. While maybe not completely repairing the fruitcake’s damaged reputation, Marie Rudisill’s book, Fruitcake: Heirloom Recipes and Memories of Truman Capote and Cousin Sook is a delightful collection of Rudisill’s various family fruitcake recipes. This small book (a mere 78 pages) is full of fruitcake tips, tricks and trivia, as well as sentimental personal remembrances from Rudisill’s own family members, including celebrated literary giant, Truman Capote and their “Cousin Sook.”
Rudisill’s book is a love letter to this misunderstood holiday concoction. The collected recipes are a treasure trove of fruitcake-y goodness that will make even the most skeptical reader drool. Exotic sounding fruitcake recipes such as the “Birthday Cake Fruitcake and the “Peacock Fruitcake” are included. Any fruitcake aficionado will find themselves lovingly paging through the recipes marking many to try. Marie Rudisill points out that while fruitcake baking is significantly easier today with the ready availability of chopped dried fruits and nuts, it is still very much a labor of love requiring much time and expense making and ripening this holiday dish. For best flavor, the baker must tend and ripen the fruitcake for a month to six weeks before serving. The best part of the book is Rudisill’s chapters on the more adventurous side of fruitcake baking – the addition of icing and especially the “Flaming” of the fruitcake.
Throughout Fruitcake: Heirloom Recipes and Memories of Truman Capote and Cousin Sook, Marie Rudisill demonstrates her love for this much maligned holiday treat and hopefully the result is infectious. Fruitcake: Heirloom Recipes and Memories of Truman Capote and Cousin Sook is a good addition to any cookbook collection as well as a great holiday gift for any fruitcake lover.
Susan L. Jennings, Lead Desk Services Librarian/Assistant Professor
Cooking in Other Women’s Kitchens is the story of domestic workers in the South between 1865 and 1960. While the phrase “domestic workers” can mean the workers perform many tasks, the author, Rebecca Sharpless, has chosen to focus exclusively on cooks rather than domestic workers in general for several reasons, including the idea that food is one of the cultural traits that humans learn first and one that they change with the greatest reluctance. Sharpless also states that as cooks, African American women profoundly shaped the foodways of the South and its overall culture, even up to the present.
Sharpless begins by explaining how African American women became the cooks of the South and as the book develops, she covers topics such as compensation and workers’ resistance, relationships with employers, and expanding opportunities and the decline of domestic work. The chapter entitled “Creating a Homeplace” provides a particularly telling look at how the cooks worked to improve both the lives of themselves and their families despite poor pay and long hours. The book also includes an appendix of cook’s wages from 1901 to 1960, which ranged from $1.50 per week to $30.00 per week for “truly excellent cooks.”
Though the book is decidedly academic and would fit in with most university library collections, the ease of readability makes it appropriate for a general audience. The mix of historical information combined with narratives from domestic workers makes Cooking come to life and gives readers a better sense of what cooks faced. The book may especially appeal to those who may have read The Help by Kathryn Stockett and are interested in reading more about the lives of African-American domestic workers. The text also includes illustrations of domestic workers, which allow readers to see true pictures of domestic workers, rather than the stereotypical “Aunt Jemima” caricatures that they may have seen in other works.
Sharpless is an associate professor of history at Texas Christian University and is also the author of Fertile Ground, Narrow Choices: Women on Texas Cotton Farms. Her current research interests include women and work in the American South and women and food entrepreneurs.
Amber Woodard, Library Technical Assistant
Book reviews should be impartial and objective; I will quickly confess to being neither. Kentuckian, Wendell Berry has long been a personal favorite author and subject, and I anxiously jumped at an opportunity to review this recent title which examines theological topics in Berry’s work.
Known as a southern writer, Berry’s themes of agrarianism, environmental stewardship, and sense of place, the inherent quality of honest work, and the sacredness of family are timeless subjects which seemingly have been recently rediscovered. Eating close to the land, “green buildings” and the interconnection between people and animals are popular current topics, but for Berry they have long been a common thread. Woven into all of his work is the awareness of the sanctity of life, the lament of modern existence and other issues which many Christians today ponder.
Joel James Shuman and L. Roger Owens, both theologians, have compiled a collection of rich essays which explore the holy in the work of multi-layered Berry, exposing Christian themes which should resonate with readers, both casual and academic. Searchers should all enjoy the thought provoking notions so elegantly offered by Berry in his fiction, non-fiction and poetry and expanded by these essays. In the introduction, Shuman instructs that this is not a book about Wendell Berry, nor a critical analysis of his writing, but a conversation among those who recognize in his work a kind of wisdom that might help them and their fellow Christians work, live, and think more faithfully in a world that, to the extent it recognizes their Christianity at all, finds it increasingly unpalatable.
The 266 pages are divided into four parts: Good Works, Holy Living, Imagination and Moving Forward. Each section contains several essays by a wide variety of contributors. For instance, in Part 1: Good Work, “Mr. Berry Goes to Medical School: Notes toward Unspecializing a Healing Art” is contributed by Dr. Brian Volck, a physician and writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. Part 2: Holy Living has a provocative essay “The Pill is Like….DDT? An Agrarian Perspective on Pharmaceutical Birth Control” by musician and cottage farmer, Elizabeth Bahnson. Other contributors hail from Duke Divinity School and North Park Theological Seminary, along with practicing pastors and professors. The list of 14 contributors and the detailed index are helpful and truly interesting.
Wendell Berry fans will not be disappointed with the rich texture and depth of this work. Larger public libraries and all academics should immediately place this title on order, if not already on the shelf.
Mary Vaughan Carpenter
The introductory chapter by Gordon B. McKinney, Professor of History and department chair at Berea College, gives a brief overview of the issues facing the Appalachian region from 1865 to 1910, the need to better understand this time period, and its importance to the development of the area. Slap writes the first chapter in which he discusses the current state of the study of postwar Appalachia and introduces the twelve chapters which follow.
Topics in these chapters range from violence and politics to isolation and economics, with the authors often reaching different conclusions. Two chapters each focus on Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, and Northwestern Georgia, with one chapter on Western Pennsylvania, and one on the study of the Appalachian region at the turn of the twentieth century.
Each chapter in Reconstructing Appalachia is a scholarly work dealing with various issues in different sections of Appalachia and, as such, can be read on their own or in any order. Reading all of the essays in the order in which they appear, however, provides the reader with a much better understanding of the true diversity of the mountain region and the extent to which the Civil War affected the area, as well as the intricate role economics, politics, religion, race, regionalism, family, and image played in the postwar reconstruction of Appalachia.
The book contains extensive notes at the end of each chapter, an index, and a list of the contributors and their credentials. It is recommended especially for academic libraries, but is certainly a valuable addition to any public or special library with a strong interest in Appalachian or southern Civil War history.
Virginia L. Salmon, Librarian
Having grown-up in Mississippi and Oklahoma, when representatives from both states were crowned Miss America during the 1950’s and 1960’s, the title of this book immediately grabbed my interest, but it is the life within the pages of the book which makes it worth reading -- a life of strength, courage, perseverance, and spiritual growth from a segment of American society not often recorded -- a Native American female.
Susan Supernaw, a Muscogee (Creek), recounts her journey from a childhood of poverty, abuse and physical suffering to the national stage of the Miss America pageant and the earning of her Indian name – Ellia Ponna (Dancing Feet of the Bear People). In a preface to the story, Susan presents her family genealogy and describes how the Supernaw family came to Oklahoma during the 1800’s. She discusses the racial conflict and cultural bias that frustrated her father upon his return from serving in World War II, torn between the “white world” and the “Native American world.” This frustration led to his alcoholism, subsequent abuse of Susan and her two sisters, and his divorce from Susan’s mother, leaving them penniless.
Supernaw’s physical suffering followed an accidental fall from a horse, which paralyzed her from the waist down, when she was a pre-teen. It was during this time that she began her spiritual quest to earn her Indian name (a quest that was not realized until many years later as she returned from the Miss America pageant). Susan counts the healing ceremony and the prayers of many as the reason for her recovery of the use of her legs in the months following the accident.
Her perseverance led her to be named a High School Presidential Scholar, which then led to an internship in the office of Representative Carl Albert (OK), Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives, in 1969. After taking part in a Vietnam War protest which followed the Kent State University shootings, Susan left Washington to return to Oklahoma. Upon her return she entered Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma, and within the next year started her rise to the Miss America pageant, as Miss Phillips University and then Miss Oklahoma, 1971.
Susan Supernaw’s journey to find herself as a woman and a Native American is engrossing, insightful, and inspiring. Muscogee Daughter received the 2003 First Book Award for prose from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas and has now been published as a part of the University of Nebraska Press’s American Indian Lives Series.
This book is recommended for Public/Secondary/Academic libraries – especially Women’s History Collections.
Annelle R. Huggins, Associate Dean of University Libraries