With the Christmas and New Year’s festivities come and gone, it’s time for me to set aside my cocktail shaker and resume my usual healthy habits. Fortunately, there are biographies out there for those of us who choose to imbibe literally.
For vodka lovers, Linda Himelstein’s The King of Vodka hits the spot. Himelstein tells the story of Pyotr Smirnov who was born a serf but eventually became one of the most successful businessmen in Russia. This book is the perfect blend of one part biography, one part business book, and one part history text. Himelstein has a terrific, dramatic narrative style that makes this an entertaining read; however, the line between fact and supposition isn’t always as clear as vodka.
If Russian history seems too chilling for this time of year, head to the Caribbean with Tom Gjelten’s Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba. Gjelten serves up 150 years of Cuban history as it unfolded around the Bicardi family’s famous rum distillery that was launched in 1862. There are many histories of the Cuban revolution, but few authors have approached the subject from the point of view of an individual family. This gives a unique, human dimension to Cuban history.
If your taste for champagne wasn’t exhausted over the holiday season, you might consider reading Tilar Mazzeo’s The Widow Clicquot. The widow in question is Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin who managed to build a successful champagne company after her husband’s death, despite the great national upheaval in France caused by the Napoleonic Wars. It was a remarkable feat by a remarkable woman and it makes for a fresh, effervescent read. It is also an education on the subject of sparklingly wine – I learned a great deal about production techniques and how quality champagne has historically been made.
Molson: the birth of a business empire by Doug Hunter
Beam, Straight Up: the bold story of the first family of Bourbon by Fred Noe and Jim Kokoris