What We Are Reading Today: The Man Who Ate Too Much by John Birdsall

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Updated 12 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: The Man Who Ate Too Much by John Birdsall

This is a well-researched and written biography of James Beard, considered a leading authority on food. 

Beard was born in Portland, Oregon and grew up in a progressive household. His mother was sophisticated and was well known in social circles. 

The Man Who Ate Too Much is John Birdsall’s first book as a solo author (he has co-written a cookbook) and weighs in at nearly 450 pages. 

Beard is an icon and the author did him justice with this biography, said a review in goodreads.com

“Written with candor, wit and vibrancy, it is as if Beard himself is speaking through Birdsall’s pen, retelling his colorful life and inviting us into his world,” it added.

Ligaya Mishan said in a review for The New York Times: “Birdsall notes Beard’s tendency to crib from his own recipes under the pressure of deadlines and to ignore or improperly credit the contributions of others. But he argues that Beard’s approach was essentially egalitarian, casting American cuisine as a grass-roots ‘collective effort’ of home cooks across the land.”

What We Are Reading Today: Gentlemen Revolutionaries by Tom Cutterham

Updated 20 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Gentlemen Revolutionaries by Tom Cutterham

In the years between the Revolutionary War and the drafting of the Constitution, American gentlemen—the merchants, lawyers, planters, and landowners who comprised the independent republic’s elite—worked hard to maintain their positions of power. Gentlemen Revolutionaries shows how their struggles over status, hierarchy, property, and control shaped the ideologies and institutions of the fledgling nation.

Tom Cutterham examines how, facing pressure from populist movements as well as the threat of foreign empires, these gentlemen argued among themselves to find new ways of justifying economic and political inequality in a republican society. At the heart of their ideology was a regime of property and contract rights derived from the norms of international commerce and 18th-century jurisprudence. But these gentlemen were not concerned with property alone. They also sought personal prestige and cultural preeminence. Cutterham describes how, painting the egalitarian freedom of the republic’s “lower sort” as dangerous licentiousness, they constructed a vision of proper social order around their own fantasies of power and justice.

 In pamphlets, speeches, letters, and poetry, they argued that the survival of the republican experiment in the US depended on the leadership of worthy gentlemen and the obedience of everyone else.

Lively and elegantly written, Gentlemen Revolutionaries demonstrates how these elites, far from giving up their attachment to gentility and privilege, recast the new republic in their own image.