Another New Book: Daniel Okrent On Prohibition

Hot tip on another new book, this one a history of the early twentieth-century Prohibition movement: Daniel Okrent's Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.

In my opinion, up to now, no one has written a particularly good, accessible history of Prohibition. As I noted in Ambitious Brew, most accounts  focus on speakeasies and gunslingers, and so completely miss the extraordinary political/lobbying group that built the 18th Amendment over a period of 25 years.

But I gather that Okrent has gotten it right. The book just came out, so presumably it's available anywhere fine-and-not-so-fine books are sold. .

I've not yet read the book (honest: I'm up to my ears in poultry trade journals...), but it sounds like a winner. So if you're looking for a good nonfiction read with which to kick off your summer, I doubt you can do better than this. (For a substantive review, see this from last Sunday's New York Times.)

As for me, I plan to read it --- ya know, just as soon as I bring my brain up out of the chicken coop. Which should be soon (I'm writing the relevant chapter and when I finish it, I plan to reward myself by resuming my regular break-neck pace of blogging.)

Jacob Grier On Why He Twitters (Yes, That's A Real Verb)

Useful ruminations from Jacob Grier on why Twitter is worth it. I agree with his list (*1) And have to say that "socializing" was definitely not part of the equation from me when I started. Yes, I was trying to figure out how to get my books in front of people.

Like Jacob, I've ended up getting to "know" people I otherwise never would have known (or known about). Most important, however, Twitter has significantly expanded my intellectual realm of possibilities. And I mean significantly. I've run into and benefited from people a host of fields (science, journalism, lit crit, younameit). Plus I've been able to follow the ongoing "debate" among and between the food people in a way that I probably would not have without Twitter.

So . . . there you have, from me to you, at the end of a long day during which I continued my efforts to break the back of this chapter.


*1: Jacob was one of three two people who urged/persuaded, me to try Twitter. The other two were Jeff Alworth at Beervana and David Nygren at The Urban Elitist.) (Which, no, he's not updated recently. I gather he's involved in the move-and-remodel from hell.)

On the State of "Information" In the Information Age

Just finished reading the current issue of The Atlantic. (I'm not big on magazines, but I do read this one --- and yes, I read it on paper.) It contains the usual great mix of articles, poems, etc.

But one article in particular is worth reading: "The Story Behind the Story," by Mark Bowden, an informed and critical look at what passes for "journalism" today, especially on television. You can read it online here. (It is, I point out, a several-thousand-word essay, not a short blog entry, so if you're burdened with a short attention span, well, don't bother.) Definitely worth reading.

There's a companion piece of sorts, "The Moguls' New Clothes," which looks at the dollars and cents of media in the information age. It's here, and it's worth strolling on over to The Atlantic website if only to see the illustration that accompanied this essay.

Indeed, one of the pleasures of The Atlantic is the care the editors take with illustrations --- as well as layout and font selection. Which is a fancy way of saying that the magazine is a easy on the eyes. There are entirely too many websites, magazines, and newspapers out there that are almost impossible to read thanks to bad design.

Oh --- one other piece in this issue: an essay about how and why California came to play such a prominent role in energy efficiency. Think of it as a mini-primer on the subject.

Okay, I have now fulfilled my role as a "lazy" blogger --- one of those who "reacts" to material rather than creates it. (So says Bowden in the first essay I mentioned above.)

James E. McWilliams' New Book Just Food

I rarely recommend books (frankly, what appeals to me may not to you, and vice versa), but I'm going to do so now.

First some background on the author: James E. McWilliams is a historian at Texas State University. He's written several books, one of which, A Revolution In Eating, is hands-down the single best history of American food written by anyone. (Alas, it's a history of colonial American foodways. I sure wish he'd write a history of 19th and 20th century food.) (*2) (*3)

His latest book is Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly. The subtitle is misleading --- the chapter on "where locavores get it wrong" is just that: a single chapter in a 200-plus page book. (*1)

Instead, this is a brilliant, thoughtful analysis of the complexities of the modern global food system, with equally thoughtful ideas about how we can change the food system in order to improve the quality of the climate and thus life on planet earth.

Those looking for a Pollanesque polemic (or a paean to the pleasures of gardening, heirloom tomatoes, and farmer's markets) will have to go elsewhere. Instead, Just Food explores the substantive research, scientific and otherwise, being conducted around the world as farmers, economists, agronomists, and the like try to figure out where modern food systems went wrong and what to do about it (oh, and still feed the world.) (No problem; we'll have the answers by Friday...)

Yes, because I was familiar with McWilliams' earlier work, and because I am a historian myself, I was predisposed to this book even before it came out. It does not disappoint (plus, McWilliams is a terrific writer; in other hands, this might have been a cruel snore; in his hands, it's a lively engaging narrative).

But because he is a historian, he approaches his material the way we historians do: by taking the Long View of the Big Picture. As a result, his analysis and his conclusions are considerably more substantive and thoughtful than what usually passes for discussion about the "food situation." (*4)

So --- if you're interested in learning more about the "food situation"; if you're wondering why Time magazine's recent cover story was about food; if you're interested in the climate crisis or life on planet earth, or, hey, your stomach, read this book.

_____________ *1: It's entirely possible that McWilliams didn't even choose that title. You'd be amazed at what happens once a book goes into production. I was surprised as hell to by the subtitle of my beer book.

*2: There are several excellent historical studies of American food in those eras, but I'd still love to see McWilliams' take on it.

*3: Full disclosure: I do not know McWilliams; I only know his work.

*4: As I've noted here before, I avoid using the phrase "food crisis."