Drinking in America

Our Secret History


By Susan Cheever

Read by Barbara Benjamin Creel

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In Drinking in America, bestselling author Susan Cheever chronicles our national love affair with liquor, taking a long, thoughtful look at the way alcohol has changed our nation’s history. This is the often-overlooked story of how alcohol has shaped American events and the American character from the seventeenth to the twentieth century.

Seen through the lens of alcoholism, American history takes on a vibrancy and a tragedy missing from many earlier accounts. From the drunkenness of the Pilgrims to Prohibition hijinks, drinking has always been a cherished American custom: a way to celebrate and a way to grieve and a way to take the edge off. At many pivotal points in our history-the illegal Mayflower landing at Cape Cod, the enslavement of African Americans, the McCarthy witch hunts, and the Kennedy assassination, to name only a few-alcohol has acted as a catalyst.

Some nations drink more than we do, some drink less, but no other nation has been the drunkest in the world as America was in the 1830s only to outlaw drinking entirely a hundred years later. Both a lively history and an unflinching cultural investigation, Drinking in America unveils the volatile ambivalence within one nation’s tumultuous affair with alcohol.


Author’s Note

Some of the spellings and punctuation in the quoted material in this book have been modernized to improve legibility.

America had been awash in drink almost from the start—wading hip-deep in it, swimming in it, at various times in its history nearly drowning in it.

Daniel Okrent, Last Call:
The Rise and Fall of Prohibition


The Pilgrims landed the Mayflower at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on a cold November day in 1620 because they were running out of beer. Their legal charter from King James was for a grant of land in Northern Virginia, but instead they anchored illegally and carved their first community from the sand, laying the foundation of the American character: flinty, rebellious, and inspired by adversity.

Since the beginning, drinking and taverns have been as much a part of American life as churches and preachers, or elections and politics. The interesting truth, untaught in most schools and unacknowledged in most written history, is that a glass of beer, a bottle of rum, a keg of hard cider, a flask of whiskey, or even a dry martini was often the silent, powerful third party to many decisions that shaped the American story from the seventeenth century to the present.

Like the Massachusetts climate with its steamy summers and icy winters, the American character is subject to wild extremes. This is true with our relation to the natural world and true with our connection to drinking. At times, we don’t seem to be able to moderate our drinking. At other times we blame it for everything. We love it or we hate it. It is our big solution and it is our big problem. In some decades we banned alcohol, and in others we drank so much that foreign visitors were astonished. “I am sure the Americans can fix nothing without a drink. If you meet, you drink; if you part, you drink; if you make acquaintance, you drink; if you close a bargain, you drink; they quarrel in their drink, and they make it up with a drink,” wrote Frederick Marryat in the nineteenth century.

Every century, our drinking pendulum—the radical change in our relationship to alcohol—swings. In the 1830s we were the drunkest country in the world. By 1930 we had outlawed drinking entirely, with disastrous results. The swings accelerated after prohibition—in the 1950s and ’60s we were again awash in alcohol. Although in the twenty-first century there are more laws and more stringent social controls on drinking than there have ever been in our history, we are drinking enough to make alcoholism a significant public health problem.

In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control issued a scathing summation of the damage drinking does in the United States.1 The CDC reported that 88,000 adults a year die of alcohol consumption. There are also, the CDC report says, more than a million alcohol-related emergency room visits as well as 10,000 traffic fatalities a year caused by drinking.2

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. It makes social connection easy. It loosens inhibitions. “Alcohol has immediate and profound effects on behavior,” writes Dr. James Milam in his classic study Under the Influence. “At low doses, alcohol stimulates the brain cells, and the drinker feels happy, talkative, energetic, and euphoric. After one or two drinks, the normal drinker may experience some improvement in thought and performance.”3 This is the alcoholic sweet spot, and its looseness and clarity have been woven into the fabric of American history. The American Revolution, the winning of the Civil War, and the great burst of creativity in American literature in the twentieth century were all enhanced by drinking.

Americans are also well acquainted with the dark side of drinking. “After several drinks, the normal drinker may begin to show signs of intoxication,” Dr. Milam writes of the sedative and toxic effects that occur when the drinker keeps on drinking. “He may become emotionally demonstrative, expressing great joy, sadness, or anger. He may also begin to show signs of motor incoordination, staggering slightly when he walks, knocking his drink over as he leaves the table, or slurring his words. If he continues to drink, his vision may blur, and his emotions, thoughts and judgment may become noticeably disordered.”4 When someone is drunk, the familiar suddenly seems unfamiliar, and the simple complicated. “I take out my phone,” writes Adam Rogers in describing an experiment with drunkenness and its aftermath. “At this point [it] seems like utterly unfamiliar technology, like something aliens have left in my pocket.”5

When does drinking become more than just a little harmless enjoyment? In history and in personal life, drinking has to be judged by its effects—not by the quantity imbibed or the attitudes of the surrounding culture. Alcoholism is a harsh diagnosis to make, and for most of our history this damning word was not used. The terms alcoholism and alcoholic were not even coined until the 1840s, and didn’t become common until the temperance movements of the 1890s. Before then drunks were just drunks and drinking too much was called by many names, most of them picturesque. According to one source, Benjamin Franklin’s Drinker’s Dictionary, some synonyms for drunk can be: afflicted, piss’d in the brook, had a thump over the head with Sampson’s jawbone, cherry merry, hammerish, haunted with evil spirits, moon-ey’d, nimptopsical, and double-tongu’d.

We know much more about alcoholism than we did just fifty years ago. Science and our modern temperance movements have pushed forward in defining both the brain chemistry and the social behavior of alcoholics. Alcohol creates what the scientists call a “hedonistic highway” in the brain of an alcoholic, so that the body is electrified with pleasure when alcohol is first imbibed. Soon it takes more and more alcohol to produce the same pleasure. After a while it takes a damaging amount of alcohol to produce what was once a normal state of being.

We now know that alcoholism has a genetic component and that it is passed from generation to generation within families. Sometimes it skips a generation or surfaces as an eating disorder, a gambling problem, or another addiction. What baffled eighteenth-century first lady Abigail Adams, who watched her brother waste his life through drinking, and was then heartbroken to see two of her sons and two of her grandsons die of drinking, makes sense to us now.

Alcohol also has an environmental component. People raised in societies where liquor is banned are less likely to drink as much as people raised in societies where liquor is freely imbibed and used as medication, mood elevator, social lubricant, and inspiration. Richard Nixon, raised in a nondrinking Quaker household, did not drink until he was an adult. He learned to drink in the Navy, and although he never drank very much, the effects of those drinks were catastrophic.

Alcoholism is not a measure of how much someone drinks but rather a measure of the effect the drinking has. Some drinkers—President Nixon is a good example—have a low tolerance for alcohol. Others have a high tolerance. Although the law judges drinking entirely on quantity—a breathalyzer measures only how much alcohol has been imbibed—whether or not a drinker is impaired is not predictable by quantity. The old-fashioned police field test for driving while intoxicated—can you walk in a straight line and turn on command, can you stand on one leg, can you sustain a horizontal gaze—is actually a more accurate measure than blood alcohol content (BAC). Many drinkers can appear to be unaffected by a great deal of alcohol, while others are unable to walk straight after a few glasses of wine.

We do know how alcohol affects the brain, first in pleasurable changes and then in less pleasurable changes, changes which sometimes end in alcoholic blackouts—periods during which an alcoholic appears to be functioning normally but has no memory of what he or she is doing. We also know that a hangover can cause even more drastic impairment than a drinking binge.

Despite all we know, there is still a mystery at the heart of alcohol’s effects. We do not understand why some people with genetic or environmental markers for alcoholism can drink normally while others cannot. We are only beginning to understand the effects of an alcoholic family member on the nonalcoholic members of a family.

I have studied alcoholism for decades, beginning when I wrote about alcoholism as an editor for Newsweek magazine in the 1970s. My father was alcoholic, and he suffered from heart attacks and delirium tremens as well as the subtler forms of distorted behavior caused by alcohol. In 1975, my father got sober through Alcoholics Anonymous, and I saw firsthand the miraculous effects of sobriety. My father’s drinking had destroyed his body, but it had also distorted his character—his soul. The restoration of one man through the simple measure of not drinking was revelatory.

My own alcoholism took a very different course. Like many women I controlled one addiction with another. When my drinking became a problem I cut back on booze and ate more. When I gained weight I went back to drinking more, or spending more money. I persuaded my Weight Watchers leader that a drink was a legitimate substitute for a fruit. What recovery guru Patrick Carnes calls “bargaining with chaos” kept me from seeing that I was drinking too much.

My father was addicted to alcohol and it showed. I was addicted to everything, and that was much easier to hide. I haven’t had a drink in more than twenty years—twenty years during which I have obsessively studied both alcoholism and temperance and their effects on individuals and cultures. Temperance, the belief that all drinking should be prohibited, is the other side of alcoholism. Our country has a rich history of temperance movements and temperance crusaders—from Walt Whitman to Carrie Nation and Phineas Barnum—and this, too, is part of our drinking story.

Individual drinkers also experience a personal dark side: hangovers. In many ways a man whose system is in withdrawal from alcohol can be less responsive than a man who is simply drunk. “The next morning is very, very terrible,” Rogers writes. “My worst hangovers sit heavily in my guts, with horrible nausea the main symptom…I get foggy, too—like, can’t remember how to type…Even the attenuated sunlight of an overcast day is painful, and my forehead feels like it has a railroad spike embedded in it.”6

Some addicts can switch substances in order to get high. As food philosopher Michael Pollan points out, one of the agricultural causes of American drunkenness has a modern parallel in our obesity epidemic. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, American farmers were producing a huge amount of corn, which does well in our fertile soil. But corn is bulky and hard to transport. The farmers found a way to make corn easy to market and transport. Soon the country was flooded with corn whiskey, which got people drunk and was enticingly cheap to buy. “Before long the price of whiskey plummeted to the point that people could afford to drink it by the pint. Which is precisely what they did,” Pollan writes in The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

These days, our surplus of corn, subsidized by government help, is made into another liquid that is cheap and easy to transport—high fructose corn syrup. Pollan concludes that “corn sweetener is to the republic of fat what corn whiskey was to the alcoholic republic.” We used to be the drunkest nation in the world; now we are the fattest nation in the world.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” wrote George Santayana. In the twenty-first century, as we swing back toward regulation and laws against drinking, we are repeating our own history. At the same time, because we often ignore the effects of alcohol in current events and in our own experiences, we are in the midst of a public education crisis. According to the New York Times, fewer than 10 percent of people needing treatment for alcohol and drug abuse get that treatment. The treatment itself is often untested and expensive.

Drinking is still on the American syllabus. Colleges have become the place where Americans serve a drinking apprenticeship. Even in the elite clubs of the Ivy League, binge drinking is approved of and sanctioned. This is nothing new. Founded in 1636, Harvard College, like many universities, had its own brewery, and as a result, one professor wrote, “lectures sometimes became unintelligible and commencement exercises so boisterous that rules had to be put into effect to limit ‘the Excesses, Immoralities and Disorders.’” By the university’s second century, Harvard professor George Ticknor told Thomas Jefferson that if the rate of drinking kept up, “we should be hardly better than a nation of sots.”

Elementary school children no longer start the day with “flip”—grain alcohol and fruit juice—as they did in the nineteenth century, but according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 25 percent of college students report that they have had academic trouble because of drinking. Today, although mothers would be horrified at the idea of putting vodka miniatures in their children’s lunch boxes, a variant of flip remains a staple for teenagers in the form of alcopops and fruit-flavored beers and wines sold in convenience stores.

As drinking waned in the nineteenth century, the temperance movement grew. Proponents of temperance deplored American drinking habits and tried to change them, often by advocating that people drink only wine and beer. “We found intoxicating liquor used by everybody, repudiated by nobody,” Abraham Lincoln told a temperance meeting in 1842. “It commonly entered into the first draft of an infant and the last thought of the dying man.” Lincoln didn’t drink, but he was personally and professionally destroyed by others’ alcoholism.

During the Civil War drinking was also expected of many of the war’s military leaders. Famous for his drinking and his attacks of remorse afterward, the great General Ulysses S. Grant was one of the most brilliant battlefield strategists of his age. After the war, Grant embraced sobriety with a great deal of difficulty and many slips. His was one of the most scandal-ridden and corrupt presidencies of the century.

The twentieth century in this country after Prohibition saw a blossoming of creativity and alcoholism linked together. This was a new and uniquely American phenomenon. During and after Prohibition, drinking almost became a prerequisite for great writing. All five of our twentieth-century literature Nobel laureates were alcoholics—Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O’Neill, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck. “The presence of the disease in so many of our notable writers surely makes it appear that alcoholism is the American writer’s disease,” writes Tom Dardis.

The Cold War was the opportunity for another alcoholic episode of our history. Wisconsin-born senator Joseph McCarthy was famous for his drinking prowess and his struggles with booze—he repeatedly went on and off the wagon during his entire career, and died an alcoholic of cirrhosis of the liver.

In the post–World War II twentieth century, drinking continued to be what lubricated the dark side of American business practices. “Alcoholism is well represented in the executive suites of corporate America,” writes James Graham.7 “I have personally observed, from within more than one multinational corporation, powerful executive-alcoholics ruin…careers…[and] drive large organizations…to extinction.” Lee Iacocca reported in his autobiography that Henry Ford II was prone to alcoholic rages. When Iacocca joined the company, he was warned, “You’ll get fired some night when Henry’s drunk. He’ll call you a wop…it will be over nothing.” After the fall of Lehman Brothers in the autumn of 2008, a camera panning through the empty offices showed an empty vodka bottle on one abandoned executive desk.

Now in the twenty-first century there are many signs that the pendulum is swinging back toward Prohibition—the control of drinking through the law. Alcoholics Anonymous, which was founded by two American businessmen in an Akron, Ohio, living room, is growing and becoming an increasing public force. Laws against drunk driving and drinking in public are being enforced more rigorously than any time since they were written. Rehabs and addiction specialists are everywhere. Many television shows—reality and otherwise—are devoted to watching people trying to stop drinking.

Each of us is a living dialogue about the benefits of drink and the dangers of drink, just as our nation has always had a similar dialogue. Masked by denial—the purposeful blindness that we sometimes bring to this subject as people and as a nation—this tension has changed our history. Even today, almost every day brings a news story in which drinking is important and in which drinking is ignored.

Whether we are the drunkest nation in the world as we were in the 1830s or a nation that outlaws liquor as we were in the 1920s, our national character is inextricable from our drinking history—and it started with the Mayflower back in the fall of 1620.

Chapter 1

The Mayflower:
A Good Creature of God


Even before the supporting beam at the foot of the main mast was shattered by a powerful wave in the middle of the stormy North Atlantic, the voyage of the creaky old Mayflower seemed cursed. She was a sweet ship, so called because she smelled of her previous cargo of wine, which she had carried from Spain to England up the Atlantic Coast of Europe for decades. When a group of exiled English separatists living in Holland stepped in to buy her, the sweetness evaporated. The voyage to the New World was a bitter vision of Calvinist Hell. When the Pilgrims finally arrived at their destination, their leader, historian William Bradford, who loved biblical parallels, wrote that what they found was far from a new Eden but “a hideous and desolate wilderness full of wild beasts and wild men.”8

The ship was bulky and boxy with high, built-up fore and aft decks, four masts—foremast, mainmast, sprit, and mizzen—and six heavy, tattered square sails. The poop deck at the stern where the captain stood on a narrow ridge of planking was more than twenty feet above the water. From there he barked commands at the ship’s helmsman below him in a tiny steerage compartment with a whip staff attached to the tiller through a hole in the deck. In 1957 at the helm of the Mayflower II, a replica of the Mayflower, experienced blue-water sailor Capt. Alan Villiers complained that even in less than gale winds the motion of the high poop aft cabin was so violent that he felt as if he might be thrown from his bunk.9

About a hundred feet from bow to stern, the Mayflower’s three acres of sails enabled her to manipulate the power of the wind when the ship wasn’t caught in a series of westerly gales or completely becalmed. In high winds her captain, Christopher Jones, who was also one of the ship’s four owners, just reefed the sails and lay “ahull,” letting her drift on the ocean’s turbulent surface. Jones navigated using an hourglass, a primitive compass, two sounding lines, and a backstaff, which crudely calculated latitude but not longitude. He knew roughly where he was, but not how far he had to go.

The ship had been built to transport almost two hundred wine barrels, not people. A quarterdeck at the back and an upper deck amidships were the roofs of the large room where the passengers lived in cramped quarters with no privacy, no bunks, no way to wash, and no facilities. Their bathroom was a bucket. Ladders connected the two decks. The living space, which was crawling with bugs, was so low ceilinged that most men could not stand up straight.

For food, the 102 passengers and about forty crew members had salt horse—salted beef or pork that was leathery and got tougher as the voyage progressed—and hardtack made from flour and water. There was some Dutch cheese as well as peas and beans.10 They washed all this down with beer—a lot of beer. Although the ship was carrying water, it grew fetid and became covered with algae in the barrels. They weren’t used to drinking water. In the seventeenth century in Europe, because of pollution in populated areas with no drains or sewers, water was not potable.

In the prow, barely above the water line, were the damp crews’ quarters, while the captain’s cabin was high up at the stern of the ship. Ever since they had voted to set out for the New World, the separatists, who had originally left England for Holland in 1608 in order to practice their religion as they pleased, had been in trouble. They were Protestants who did not want to be associated with the Church of England—the official church. They became restless in Holland, although they had the religious freedom they craved. They were homesick, but they knew that in England they would be arrested or hanged. They imagined a wilderness where they could settle and establish a community on their own terms far from compulsory attendance at Anglican churches.

Some wanted to try to get to Guyana in South America, but most of them voted for Virginia in the New World, where communities of Englishmen had already settled. The Virginia Company of London had extended its northern boundary to the Hudson River and had just begun granting large tracts of land to groups who would go on the journey to populate and cultivate them. Against a lot of evidence, the British explorers defined the eastern coast of the New World as unpopulated—it lacked the farms and houses that signified population in the British Isles.

Under a British law called vacuum domicilium, unpopulated land was free for the taking; it could be claimed by anyone who was willing to live there and develop it. This extraordinary law allowed King James to grant licenses to lands that he did not own, land that had been populated for centuries by Native Americans. The two separatists who had been sent to London from Leiden easily obtained a charter from the Virginia Company, and with somewhat more difficulty wrenched a promise from King James I that, although he did not recognize their religion, if they settled in Virginia he would “not molest them, provided they carried themselves peaceably.”11

The ease of getting a land grant in Virginia, a grant that turned out to be useless, was one of the few easy things the men encountered. First in the winter of 1618, they were swindled by an English businessman who promised to find them a ship and supplies, but tricked them into signing a contract which would turn over seven years of their labor and profits to another company. Then they set off for England in a small ship they had purchased in Holland—the Speedwell—thinking that she and the Mayflower would sail to America together. The separatists were ignorant of the demands of a trans-Atlantic voyage. Nor did they realize that the Speedwell’s captain, Master Reynolds, had no intention of sailing to the New World and had resolved to hinder their voyage rather than help it.

They planned to leave England in the early summer of 1620, but difficulties with supplies held them back. The Speedwell and the Mayflower met and loaded in Southampton, England, and set off for the New World for the first time in early August 1620. Their troubles continued. Master Reynolds had knowingly replaced the Speedwell’s masts with taller masts and increased the amount of sail the ship carried so that when it went at high speeds in the open ocean it would leak. “By overmasting the Speedwell,” Nathaniel Philbrick writes, “Reynolds had provided himself with an easy way to deceive this fanatical group of landlubbers.”12 The Mayflower and the Speedwell were forced to turn back and find a harbor near Dartmouth on the west coast of England so that the Speedwell could be repaired.

Reynolds may have been working for Dutch businessmen who wanted to keep the best land in the New World for themselves, or he may have been afraid to sail to America. Whatever the reason for it, his deception fooled the Pilgrims and cost them valuable weeks.

The best time to sail across the North Atlantic was the summer, which had been the Pilgrims’ plan for the Mayflower and, they hoped, the Speedwell. Slowly that plan began to evaporate. The group of landlubbers had grown beyond the original tight band of English separatists. Even before they left England, the Pilgrims had become a minority on the Mayflower. In order to finance the voyage, they had been forced to take on two other groups of passengers.

One of these groups, the Adventurers, was a group of Englishmen paying passage and in search of fortune in the New World. The other group, called the Strangers, was a polyglot mass of people who had crowded on board back in Southampton when the ship needed passengers. A fourth group on the Mayflower—after the Pilgrims, the Adventurers, and the Strangers—were the sailors. A tight social unit that served as the crew of the Mayflower


  • "A fascinating look at the place and function of alcohol throughout American history...[Cheever] offers a colorful portrait of a society that, like her own family, has been indelibly shaped by its drinking habits. An intelligently argued study of our country's 'passionate connection to drinking.'"—Kirkus Reviews
  • "Susan Cheever offers a humane but unsentimental view of our nation's inebriated past in DRINKING IN AMERICA. To excuse the pun, it's an addictive read full of wit and verve, revealing the deep influence of alcohol on many of our country's most significant moments, from the landing at Plymouth Harbour, to the Kennedy Assassination and Watergate. This is terrific social history but not as it's usually told, and all the better for it."—Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire (winner of the Whitbread) and A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War
  • "Cheever's central observation is fascinating...The melting pot, it seems, was also a mixing bowl."—Publishers Weekly
  • "Insightful...well-researched and well-developed...An engrossing, in-depth examination of the profound ways alcohol and drinking have shaped and contributed to American history."—Shelf Awareness
  • "Cheever is full of such shocking and often delightful revelations of a history we never learned in school."—Newsday
  • "I can't stop raving (soberly!) about Susan Cheever's new book... It is both enlightening and frightening. A brilliant and important addition to our understanding of what goes wrong and what can continue to go wrong in a world dominated by the most deadly legal liquid ever invented."—Judy Collins
  • "Compelling...[a] brisk drinker's companion to US history, which runs a black light over the archives to ask: who was loaded, and why did it matter?... It's the fourth of Wilson's famous 12 steps that made it common practice for sober folk to dig into their own pasts in order to articulate the role of alcohol - to create a 'searching and fearless moral inventory' - and with DRINKING IN AMERICA, Cheever submits the US to a similar investigation. Along the way, we see a country struggling to negotiate its freedoms, nurtured by alcohol and undone by it as well....This approach can be illuminating, turning those sepia-toned historical figures in wigs into uncertain young men with tankards of rum in their hands."—Los Angeles Review of Books
  • "Cheever serves up a sober cocktail of American history...offers up sideways views that are intriguing."—Associated Press
  • "Full of compelling ideas...Cheever is smart, perceptive and disciplined...Her Nixon chapter in particular is alternately horrifying and delightful, and paints a compelling picture of the monstrous complexity of a 'great man.'"—Buffalo News
  • "Vivid...some of the book's most affecting moments arrive when Cheever discusses her family's drinking problems. "—The San Francisco Chronicle
  • "Full of fascinating details...this book is an important and highly entertaining step in the right direction."—Women's Voices for Change
  • "Cheever addresses serious subjects with casual and at times humorous prose, making this book surprisingly fun to read. You won't find this booze-filled version of American history in any textbooks, but as with any good barroom conversation, you'll learn just as much."—Kansas City Star
  • "A unique cultural tour."—BookTrib
  • "Packed with the liquor-soaked legacy of our country...[Cheever] presents a chronicle of the United States that has, to my knowledge, never been attempted. And it is a riveting, revisionist take on so many great events and people...fascinating, unusual history."—The Palm Beach Post
  • "Goes down like a smooth glass of wine after a long day...Whether you're a drinker or a teetotaler, if you like a wee nip of history, then here's the book you want."—The Bookworm Sez
  • "A highly readable, in-your-face look at not only the destructive power of alcohol in America, but the strange way it shaped our history."—San Antonio Express-News
  • "If you're looking for a sobering introduction to drunk history, this is the book for you."—Toronto Star
  • "At once fascinating and slightly disturbing."—The Oklahoman
  • "DRINKING IN AMERICA at times has many shocking revelations of the role alcohol has played in our country that is a great addition to the legends of this nation."—Midwest Book Review
  • "This is Drunk History, but thoroughly researched and soberly elucidated."—The Portland Mercury
  • "Cheever lays bare something many of us know intimately: 'alcoholism is a family disease,' she writes, and its roots in the American family run deep."—Boston Globe
  • "[A] cockeyed retelling of the American story."—The Week
  • "A riveting, revisionist take on so many great events and people... fascinating, unusual history... her research is spot on."—The New York Social Diary
  • "A chronicle of America's past that is full of details they never told you back in fifth grade."—Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • "Informative, entertaining and scary...this book brings history to life and pours it a tall one."—High Times

On Sale
Oct 13, 2015
Hachette Audio

Susan Cheever

About the Author

Susan Cheever is the author of the biographies E.E. Cummings, American Bloomsbury, and My Name Is Bill, as well as five novels and four memoirs. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Newsday, among other magazines and anthologies. She has been a Guggenheim Fellow, has been nominated for a National Book Circle Award, and won the Boston Globe Winship medal. She attended Brown University and has taught at many places, including Yale, Brown, Columbia, the New School, and Bennington College.

Learn more about this author