Saturday, August 26, 2023

A Review of "The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder" by David Grann


A study of skullduggery and heroism, vainglory and stiff-upper lips, the unbelievable odyssey that is David Gann’s latest nonfiction work The Wager also manages to tear at the evils of empire, 18th century edition. That very direct subtitle makes clear the book won’t be a mystery: British vessels set sail hoping to bag a Spanish galleon loaded with treasure, all part of the now forgotten War of Jenkins’ Ear, endeavoring to sail around Cape Horn, a passage of unimaginable waves and wind, only to lead to…well, you just read the subtitle. But as a study of human will tested to its utmost, and beyond (eventually there’s even some cannibalism of corpses), The Wager (the all-too-perfect name of the ship that wrecks) fascinates. Gann (Killers of the Flower Moon) even gets to vividly paint a portrait of a roaring sea battle along the way. 

 To be honest, it’s a pretty critic-proof book. A page-turner thanks to the amazing twists and turns the ever smaller crew of the Wager suffers (passages about typhus and scurvy are particularly affecting), what’s most striking is how much Grann keeps writerly moves out of the way. Crucially, he’s an ace historian, digging through volumes of firsthand accounts of 1740-1746, synthesizing generally self-interested tales effectively. Central to that is an account written based on one of the perilous journey’s few logbooks, that of gunner John Bulkeley, devout Christian, experienced seaman, natural leader, reluctant mutineer. Alas, when those that survived the ordeal made it back to England, they were welcomed by the age of Grub Street, when “the loosening of government censorship and wider literacy” meant an insatiable appetite for what would not yet be called yellow journalism for several more centuries.

Care to read the rest then do so at the California Review of Books.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Vivid Green Sodas Drink Furiously


How fitting with another Teenage Mutant Ninja Moneymaker out that Jones Soda Co. has concocted their current special release that has the glowing hue of Mutagen. The good news is the soda won't genetically modify you or you loved ones, artfully-named turtles or otherwise. Nope, this gloriously green soda shouts its flavors in neon--it's Hatch chile and lime. As the label suggests, the pepper temp is at best a low burn, one that kind of warms up your palate as you get to the bottom of the bottle. You get a bit of the smoky characteristic Hatch is known for, but not a ton--I doubted the chiles are roasted before being infused, or however their "natural flavors" are extracted. The color comes from Yellow 5 and Blue 1, btw, but this is soda after all. It's not like you drink it for your health.

It is mighty tasty and just fun to consume, though. How pleasing is that vibrant green? And if you're going to give in to the flabbergastingly successful Hatch Chile marketing campaign--how one valley conquered the rest of New Mexico's chiles, not to mention their Anaheim cousins, I'll never quite figure out--you might as well get a smile out of it.

The consumer-provided "Reel labels" are a hoot, too. Each bottle offers a QR code so you can upload an image and maybe one day your photo will grace something retina-burningly chartreuse too.

For further research--seeing how well this Hatch Chile and lime works as a mixer in a cocktail; I'd have to imagine a splash of mezcal couldn't hurt.

Monday, August 14, 2023

A Review of "Dinner with the President: Food, Politics, and a History of Breaking Bread at the White House" by Alex Prud’homme


Freedom Fries—the bogus re-naming bestowed by right-wingers requiring simple-minded revenge during the Iraq War when France was a hesitant ally to the US—weren’t the first occasion food nomenclature became a patriotic battlefield. During World War I, Herbert Hoover, then the head of Woodrow Wilson’s Food Administration and years prior to his own presidency, decided sauerkraut was too Germanic to stomach. He renamed it Liberty Cabbage. If tasty bits of trivia like that entertain, they will be one of the many motors propelling you through Alex Prud’homme’s extensive and entirely fascinating Dinner with the President: Food, Politics, and a History of Breaking Bread at the White House

 Believing “the president is the eater in chief,” Prud'homme explores not only what was eaten and with whom in the White House, but also the history of U.S. food policy. In his introduction he asserts, “[The President’s] messaging about food touches on everything from personal taste to global nutrition, politics, economics, science, and war—not to mention race, class, gender, money, religion, history, culture, and many other things.” Overall, the enlightening volume — complete with 10 presidential recipes so you can play White House chef at home — provides Prud’homme with the opportunity (as he told me in an interview I conducted with him for a different publication) “to look at American history through the lens of food, which, oddly, has never been done before. I was surprised to find out there hadn’t been a book quite like this, so that was a blessing for me.”

Care to read the rest then do at the California Review of Books.