"Fox News Watch" host Eric Burns, who chronicled the social history of alcohol in The Spirits of America turns to tobacco in The Smoke of the Gods. Ranging from ancient times to the present day, The Smoke of the Gods is a lively history of tobacco, especially in the United States.
Although tobacco use is controversial in the U.S. today, Burns reminds us that this was not always the case. For centuries tobacco was generally thought to have medicinal and even spiritual value. Most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were tobacco users or growers, or both. According to Burns, tobacco changed the very course of U.S. history, because its discovery caused the British to support Jamestown, its struggling New World colony.
An entertaining and informative look at a subject that makes daily news headlines, The Smoke of the Gods is a history that is, well, quite addictive.
For the ancient Mayans, Burns says, smoking was prayer, but when Rodrigo de Xerez, a crewmate of Columbus, returned to Spain, the Inquisitors saw what they assumed was the devil's fire spiraling from his nose and mouth-they confiscated de Xerez's land and jailed him. The weed fared better in England: Sir Walter Raleigh taught Queen Elizabeth to light up, and folks thought tobacco could protect them from the plague. In a genial social history that backhandedly glorifies this "first successful American export" while tracing its "mesmerizing" mystique, Burns (The Spirits of America: A Social History of Alcohol) demonstrates how the labor-intensive tobacco crop led to slavery, and how the YMCA withdrew its support from the Anti-Cigarette League and shipped millions of dollars' worth of cigarettes to GIs during WWI. Tobacco's detractors included Russia's 17th-century Czar Michael Feodorovich, who had third-time violators of his smoking ban beheaded, and Wayne McLaren, the famous face of the Marlboro man in print ads and on billboards who became a passionate antismoking advocate before his death at 51 from lung cancer. Burns is an able writer and researcher, but given the controversial nature of his topic, one would have hoped for more edge and attitude from the Fox News anchor. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Burns (The Spirits of America: A Social History of Alcohol), host of television's Fox News Watch, takes a long drag on the social history of tobacco, from its origins as a religious and medicinal agent among the Maya, to its adoption and adaptation in many forms for amusement, health, and relaxation among Europeans and Asians, to its popularity in the form of cigars and especially cigarettes today. Burns is long on anecdote and short on analysis, and he is sometimes anachronistic. He misses important social history regarding the ways tobacco was produced in Colonial America, consumed (especially by different nationalities and ethnic and age groups), and incorporated into popular culture outside the United States. Burns tells good stories about peoples' fascination with tobacco, especially as "smoke," and understands well the connections between advertising and smoking. His book is especially useful regarding responses to tobacco consumption, including revealing accounts of 19th-century antitobacco reform and the scientific and social arguments against it in recent years. But his long asides on historical figures not much tied to the tobacco story and his speculations on tobacco's mystical powers are just puff. The subject still awaits a full-dress study. For major public and university libraries.-Randall M. Miller, Saint Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Channel's "Fox News Watch."A former NBC News correspondent, Burns was named one of thebest writers in the history of broadcast journalism by theWashington Journalism Review. He is also an Emmy winner formedia criticism. He is the author of four previous books; his TheSpirits of America: A Social History of Alcohol, was named one of thebest academic press volumes of 2003 by the American LibraryAssociation.