tv Book Discussion on Drinking in America CSPAN December 20, 2015 11:15pm-12:01am EST
bureaucracy benefits from a certain mentality and culture and he's saying we have to change this so he's going at it in a very powerful way and people are excited about it he is also making enemies in of the church by doing that. >> you work for a catholic advocacy group. since he has been the pope have you noticed an uptick in the folks wanting to engage you about your religion? >> there's a renewed sense of urgency about the folks that in recent years were now taking a second look at again and i think that this is going to have repercussions for the catholic political conversation in the country so absolutely there is a new sense of energy. >> the author of the francis affect the radical pope's challenge to the catholic church published by roman and little field. thank you very much. >> we are so honored tonight to welcome susan at the best selling and highly esteemed memoir biographer and novelist as she launches her newest book
drinking in america our secret history. her distinguished bibliography includes the 2015 biography of e.e. cummings a life which was chosen by the economist as one of the best books of the year and is now considered the definitive biography of that iconoclastic show he's a poet and other biographical works include american bloomsbury the leading figures of the transcendentalist movement, and my name is bill, bill wilson for his life and the creation of alcoholics anonymous home before dark, the groundbreaking biography of her father, writer john and treetops in the more. she's also the author of five novels, and a frequent frequent computer of essays and articles
to leading publications. she's influential in shaping and sustaining our literary culture as a member of the corporation and of the authors guild council and is a faculty member at bennington college mfa program in the new school in new york city. in her fascinating and compelling new book, she traces the pervasive influence of alcohol at key moments over centuries of american political and cultural history from the beer shortage induced a legal landing of the pilgrims at cape cod to the assassination of president kennedy and president nixon's last days in the white house and explores its impact on many historic and literary figures in between and since, old words asking the central question of what forms a
national character. ladies and gentlemen, susan. [applause] thanks for coming. so, it's a great honor to be here at a store that is the center of the literary universe in this country of the world. i'm just going to talk about this book a little bit and read three short sections from it and hope that it somehow informs you and intrigues you at the same time. one of the great privileges of being a writer is that we get to make history come alive which is
really fun. we get to take the pictures off the wall and make them dance and make them eat and make them drink and make them fall in and out of love with each other. we can notice that hubris is s. grant was a short man at man that adored his wife for that alexander hamilton hated drinking because his father was a trunk who took offense left him with his mother or that henry thurow was a favorite teacher and we can include not just the moment as events which happened which is really pushes by the peace people in history books but also the texture of their everyday lives. did their shoes hurt, how were they feeling about themselves that they were they thinking about what they were going to have for dinner that kind of stuff which really takes us there into history. the food, the sex, the clothes in the drinking.
in this book by looking looking into drinking in america at the drinking in america and shoving its influence i've tried to bring our heroes and our villains to life on the page. i hope if you read this book you will come to think of john quincy adams as a sad friend who lost two brothers and two sons to talk with them and sympathize with henry kissinger who had the unenviable job of babysitting a drunk. this book has spanned four centuries and starts with the pilgrims and we will get into that it goes through the revolution, the civil war, senator joe mccarthy, the jfk assassination. i just took a bunch of events in which alcohol seemed to have or did have a huge effect on what happened and went through them.
when they moved in 1845 the last thing that he had in mind was writing a book about it. he didn't have anywhere else to live he moved to give a favorite they found that if the the row had done his job well to well and he said you can't live here anymore ... but what am i going to be moved back in with my mother and she said i have this i have this was on the woodland pond white of you built yourself something.
and preachers or elections and politics. a glass of beer a bottle of rum or even a dry martini is a silent powerful third-party too many decisions that shape the american story from the american century to the present. there are countries where people drink more and drink less but there is no other country where we put the drunkest country in the world and is lauded in 1930 and by 1950 we were back to being up there and now we are on our way back in another direction so we did little for ambivalence when it comes to drinking. every century the drinking pendulum swings wildly and that isn't so true in the countries.
when the link and if i ever did that general george mcclellan and fired a strike in general. and indeed that is when the tide seemed to turn and it did turn because of a can-do attitude and their refusal to admit defeat because of the forward motion that nobody could seem to stop. as lincoln said of grant, he is a man who gets it and he was also a man who drank so here goes grant.
of all the drunken generals who fought during the civil war, and there were many the one who most famously battled the bottle was useless as s. grant warned the son of a letter to in ohio, grant was sent to west point where he graduated in the bottom half of his class. at west point he fell in love with his roommates sister, julia. he proposed, she demurred when he proposed she asks for more time. his father disapproved of julia. her parents disapproved of him. after a four-year courtship he finally won her over and they were married in 1848. the couple adored each other in war and peace in the sobriety and drunkenness. they had four children almost 40 years later grants dot emacs to finish his great autobiography on the personal memoirs of ulysses s. grant said so that they could be supported after he died. a soldier's life is not his own
in the grant was posted from camp to camp finally ending up in fort humboldt in california. here was his beloved wife and family far away. his drinking began to catch up with him. there was plenty of tolerance for drinking in the military but less tolerance for a drunk. grant was a small man, 5-foot 2 inches who became famous for being unable to hold his liquor. he would sometimes get a drunk on what appeared to be one glass and other times would drink a great deal. grant's commander at fort humboldt took offense. he gave grant the choice of resigning his post in his military career or having charges pressed against him. suddenly at the age of 32 and was a family to support, grant had no profession. and even of his own grandchildren.
they trade farming which didn't work out and finally his father came around. grant who is much too good for him was able to moderate history again. he drank more than he did as a soldier and like many alcoholics he struggled to control history gained a struggle that was sometimes more successful than others. when the war began in april april 1861, grant acted decisively. soon he was the head of the company at the volunteers in the confederate army near the important junction of the ohio and mississippi rivers.
at this point granted and drink and he didn't tolerate drinking among has been. grant's forces wanted the early victory for the union after the demoralizing defeat of bull run made him famous. grant's next engagement was more complicated and perilous but equally victorious. now a major general, grant led his forces south to mississippi on the tennessee river where the confederate army was massed. and by this time of course he started drinking again. on the morning of april 61862, the confederate army launched a surprise attack with the aim of wiping out the main union army once and for all. the first day of the battle at pittsburg landing which is also the battle of shiloh come, as you know all of these have two names, and the confederates named the battles after the places where they were five sharpsburg, bull run coming and
i getting this right command the union army named him after a landmark, shiloh, and he him, etc.. so i can't collect pittsburg landing but it was really shiloh. okay so the first day of the battle of shiloh was disastrous for the the union that grants troops held on fighting desperately in in the mud also grant himself was not around. it was said that he was visiting troops across the river. night fell without a retreat from the union although union although many of the men were 2 miles closer to the tennessee river in defeat from where they had begun the day. the troops were exhausted. many people thought the union was beaten including the union general and grant's friend william tecumseh sherman. sherman had been in the thick of the battle all day slowly losing ground. ..
but they had to drink beer because they could not drink the water. so if there is any possible thing they might have needed to do with a clear head that was difficult for them. but that is not the point of this paragraph. [laughter] so the pilgrim story was parallel to the biblical story of exodus. his view of history like many companions was entirely shaped by his knowledge of the king james bible old testament that was completed a few years earlier. every voyage was the voyage of the israelites. and made him an effective leader and whatever happened to the pilgrims was in a larger context overseen by the erratic god.
this is the controlling idea that he saw and understood everything. he took history personally. modern history claims to be objective they write as if they have the unbiased eye this is the modern equivalent of god's will and observant neutrality punctuated with wise commentary there are many advantages to this type of history that has day ax to grind or a political point to make but there are also a disadvantage is that taking a broad view the abysses is on the sweep of time not on the moments that make up our lives. there never personal but the assumptions on which they base their lives are hidden
history is as far away as it can get it in these books we see that panoplies of history from the tone keyhole of that old belief and knowledge and are stuck in the first quarter of the 21st century looking back is like trying to make out the details of the ship on the far horizon. historians make many decisions about how to deal with this. should we bring modern knowledge? what type of language should we use? how to make knowledge the differences, how do we factor in our own tolerance? when those were under heard of. those were the questions. with that national character what creates a national character is an opportunity
that stirs with the of pilgrims the american attitude on and doing things to benefit the individual all come from that cold afternoon it is the character of vitamin a and experience it was being formed in those minutes when they finally reached the beach. to survive they have to develop a fierce individualism and a craving for freedom toward but will become the louisiana purchase to wear their spare it will settle a huge tracts of plans. the american character has been formed by 100 forces that is like trying to nail
jelly to of all but it began that is to buy many forces and one of those a source of brilliance and incompetence was a passionate connection to you drinking kgo. [applause] questions? and what you try to a with that history of the psychoanalysis. >> not at all i don't think it is about getting inside people's psyche.
but this young man is intelligently asking to rephrase fairly, if it is more like psychoanalysis? were visiting like psychoanalysis. that we don't think is new history that is what a novelist does. is about the details that make up there everyday lives and say on such and such a date hit some shoes hurt and had okra of borer breakfasted is a bad example but talking about getting
into the everydays so i feel that i was there. and i am not saying my questions are not answered by the book is where did that inspiration come from? they outworked everyone else by a factor of 7 million. what was said they had coming from dayton ohio that enabled them to go back added until they got it? and even than so that is what interests me. good question. >> i am kerry is how you got interested in this topic with various historical
incidents together. >> so for me, writing comes from an obsession. although i usually don't know why they're writing a book so it is all about obsession. so furlong time a obsessed with american history and also with alcoholism and recovery. because i have personal experience, my father, and it is very interesting. i do about the pilgrims and the beer that is fairly commonly known. i said i wonder if they go together somehow. so i started reading and i was amazed.
i sat on the floor of the library saying you are kidding? real latex -- really? i had no idea. he died of cirrhosis. but i was very careful not to do any guessing. if you don't die of liver disease before 40 did your non-alcoholic. but it was amazing the effects that alcohol had on our history starting with the american revolution. that was in the basement of the green dragon tavern. the boston tea party the which to the ship to security to not shipping back and guess what? they threw overboard instead
and then at the green dragon taboret. [laughter] over and over again. >> starting with the observation to take disinformation to bring it together as a retired educator, if i were so lazy i would come back with lesson plans. you did such a great job and the kids would be interested. and as a recovering alcoholic it is very important. and you have skills no question.
the you are the daughter of john cheever that i consider a great american writer. and where the advantages could you comment. >> my daughter is in the audience will not tell you who she is but just know if i answer this question how can one talk about one's parents? there are many but did vintages that people think i had not the ones that i had. he did not want me to be a writer he didn't want any of us to be a right -- to writer. that was a miserable life i
could not agree more. when i was there a site to a camera to lunch and i said you teach people. give me advice he said don't use dialog tanks. although that is pretty good vice. but i did see that was something we could do. he cannot keep to itself for reading. i could see with all the misery to go to public
school and all that stuff all the late nights we were both on the save the floor so i knew at three in the morning but i saw that debt was doable. and he just did it every day. that was a huge benefit in there remember this was the best course of my father but we were living in italy for a while and english books were gold he came back with collins and i was 12 and the time came to go to school i said i was set by a way to
sec i had the book under my covers. he saw the book he said okay. so it was that kind of household demand all good righty comes reading. if you're not reading all the time it is very hard you to write well. so it is a huge advantage talking about books all the time in reading books all the time. did i answer your question? >> i felt one of the most interesting parts of your book that you talk about the flow and change of america before writing standpoint everson, hawthorne and.
powell and then the period of hemingway fitzgerald and heavy drinkers and very much if the decline of not drinking. what are your thoughts on that? the idea that all writers have to drink sometimes that is helpful to writing and what i pointed out it is sold the was true from 1928 through 1980. but as you remember all literature was written five years between 1850 and 1855
and all those books they did not drink. they were not drinkers. so what about those who had american the richer? i realized the whole myth is just these to the generations and i believe it was caused by prohibition that day drinking far more attractive to those you need their own way. but now they don't except the occasional but really they don't. it is a very isolated moment i don't think they were ahead or behind their tie but it had nothing to do with writing.
that they were drunk because a provision in when the fax wore off actually don't think that will help your writing or really hurt it. and those are separate but the question i can answer is why do people want to believe this? yes it was smart but what she said the related to drinking is not right. and i don't have the answer to that. >> and i have been irritated at the tendency of business
journalism about some of the things in the past. to be hbo ready. and if you have a cultural history that might be nice to be at plymouth rock but if you talk about subjects that need details we be about their coat and tie maybe you could elaborate about those tendencies with that nonfiction writing? >> i am ignorant when it comes to business writing so i can only guess. i am a big fan of read more
so what is happening there is more and more into the sea and all of our riding. memoir has a tremendous political dimension give a a voice to those who never have one before those whose stories were not heard before and because of that it was developed to have met more shame. and i think we're at the beginning of the golden age of memorex only beginning to see what could be done. but at the same time that more with its intimacy is irresistible if you read a profile the writer is always a character and also happened with history with
their real feelings and i want to go back to the right to brothers with another book of history but the pilgrims i don't want to know they did this amazing thing and discover the new world i want to know where they hungry? i hate the word relatable but what was on their mind? what did they worry about? so that is what i talk about although it does sound pretentious. sorry about that. next question. >> talked-about the schizophrenia between the trading in the not drinking and with that battle of shiloh i am from tennessee
and the entire economy before the civil war consisted of whiskey that was transported up the trend -- tennessee river down to do arlen's -- do or lens but half of those counties are still try. comment how you go from the slow economy on a cash basis to half of the county's being tried to day and how that transformation happens historically a and where you think it will go. >> that is what we do rewrote the a bill to pass the prohibition amendment because the entire economy was based on liquor taxes so
it couldn't have been prohibition but to pass that income-tax amendment and we have prohibition. so it is so weird how we are about this. and this coming together of dry in on what is the same counties that has liquor. our ambivalence is astonishing. at of how the tablets why we are so ambivalent. but it is part of the american character extremes. i will not mention any issues that we are very passionate people still making read the first person i know that talks about alcoholism and history.
with my experience is it is an addiction and. but to being is an addiction of sorts with a strong belief about something and once you start wanting to push that belief on other people the keeps going and this is just the beginning of the storm. as a person who has talked about the relationship of history and the addiction deal have thoughts about this other addiction of terrorism or the understanding of it? >> it is a terrifying
question and to i don't know how it works with isis but i do know a the ninth 11 guys were drinking the night before. and that is pretty much all i know. i don't see alcoholism the way you do the it is a trait with no big deal so as an alcoholic, whether you are born that way or who knows if you want to agree to read you want more so that is a very interesting question and i urge you to find out and let me know. [laughter] how is that? [applause]
world medicine association president president michael examines healthcare inequalities. he's interviewed by christine at the global health council. >> host: so, michael marmot, it's a pleasure to have you to speak about your book the health gap. you've written are out of the social determinants for some time and i wanted to start by reading a quick quote from the end of the book but i think it gets us off to a good place. this political damage of health creates health inequities. such disempowerment may take different forms in the low, middle and high income