Wednesday, August 16, 2006

see america through rum goggles

And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails
by Wayne Curtis
(HC released July 25, 2006)

This book follows the popular trend in pop history of building the story of an area (or the whole darn world) around a particular item. (See also Salt, Marriage: a History, Hip: a History, Piano, Cod, Coal, Clay, Flag, Rum: The Real Spirit of 1776, Whiskey, Oil, Zero, Compass, Longitude, and so on).

Although most or all of these books are very intersting (i've only read a few), and none of them read like textbooks or anything so terrible, one big difference with this author is that he has a rather dry (haha) sense of humor that appealed to me. In the opening paragraphs, Curtis is visiting an authentic re-built pre-colonial tavern in Philly. Standing at the door to the tavern is a costumed actor in a ruffled shirt. Curtis grits his teeth a walks towards the actor, convinced that he's going to freak out if the actor even tries to put on a fake accent and start in on some speach about [paraphrased] "our esteemed citizen, Thomas Jefferson, do you know of him?...." Thankfully the actor just opens the door for him and skips the speach.

Another difference about this book is that each of the chapters (one for each cocktail) relates easily to its namesake. In some of these books, you have to squint in order to see where the connection is between the item and the time or culture in question, but I didn't find myself doing that with this book. The author makes the connections very clear, but is also subtle and smooth about it. The writing style in general is conversational and casual, making it a very easy and relaxed read, and sprinkled with the aforementioned dry and almost sarcastic humor.

One rather amusing bit of the book I want to mention is the telling of the story of the real Captain Morgan. He was a bit of a scoundral, it would seem, and supposedly enjoyed stringing people up by their testicles until "a violent anatomical separation" occurred. The the Captain Morgan brand hit the US, Curtis describes the new stylized mascot as being poised above NYC, ready to string up unsuspecting wall street types by their balls.

All in all, I actually really liked this title, and I learned some stuff to boot. The trade triangle (sugar, rum, slaves) that is described in some textbooks, for example, is basically crap. Rum cocktails got going becuase sailors added limes and sugar to their watered down crappy rum. An official rum ration was part of the daily routine of the British navy until way more recently than you'd think.

The book also includes recipies for all of the cocktails mentioned, if you're ever in the mood for some authentic colonial era grog.

I would recommend this book as a good one for history dorks like me who also would enjoy something with a little thought put into the writing and presentation. It's a hard sell in HC, though, I realize.

posted by ~e at 10:11 AM


Blogger reyn said...

"stringing people up by their testicles"? Let's be honest here. He only did it to MEN. I've done some checking, and no woman in history was EVER suspended by her scrotum. I defy anyone to say otherwise.

8/17/2006 6:59 AM  
Blogger ~e said...

man, you're a pain in the ass. if i had testicles, you'd be a pain there, too.

8/17/2006 5:16 PM  

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