May 22, 2012

Bourbon Book Review: "A Social History of Bourbon: An Unhurried Account of our Star-Spangled American Drink" by Gerald Carson

And in the last installment of my short series on bourbon books....

Like Henry Crowgey’s "Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking," Gerald Carson’s "A Social History of Bourbon" is written strictly from a historical standpoint. Carson was born in 1899 in Illinois and became an author of several works on American history. "A Social History of Bourbon" is laden with historical facts and accounts, making the book academic and intellectual.

As is made clear by the book’s title, it recounts early U.S. history from the standpoint of bourbon and American whiskey. Carson cleverly demonstrates the very significant place whiskey occupied in early American government and politics, and how it was the impetus behind several Congressional Acts and many taxes including Prohibition and the Excise Tax. "A Social History of Bourbon" also situates bourbon at the center of American corruption, whether it be socially via moonshiners or politically via the Whiskey Ring. As Carson writes, "The story of bourbon is recorded in many lively pages of our history. American whiskey is intimately associated with valor and splendor and the graces of life; with villainy and folly; with dramatic events such as the Whiskey Rebellion, the scandals of the Whiskey Ring and later with the Whiskey Trust; with the 'whiskey forts' of the fur trade, the fate of American Indian and the toil of civilizing a continent. Whiskey and government, finally, are yoked together in an uneasy relationship derived from the power of Congress to levy taxes."

Carson has obviously spent considerable time researching bourbon’s impact and presence in American history. It ties the social and political history of the U.S. tightly with bourbon, illustrating how whiskey informed to a large degree the early Federal countenance of America. Carson illustrates that bourbon is undeniably part and parcel of early American life, spanning from the colonies to the frontier and influencing the government that oversaw and shaped a growing nation. It should further be noted that the material and information in the book are over 65 years old. However, despite its age it is still relevant and offers a unique read not duplicated by other, more recent authors. To that end, Gerald Carson’s A Social History of Bourbon should not be overlooked – it should be valued.

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