A small classic of familial triumph, travail and strife, and a tellingand often hilariousparable about the pursuit and costs of the American dream . . . recounted with uncommon acuity and wit.” Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“How decadent to indulge in Rich Cohen's rollicking account of his family and the business it built. . . . Cohen has a terrific eye for detail, the little things that affix people and places in our memories, the gestures and miscues that shape family history. . . . It's a guilty pleasuresort of like sugar without calories.” The New York Times Book Review
“A wildly addictive, high-octane narrative. Cohen sashays with boisterous panache from the history of the sugar trade to grandmother Betty's brooch. . . . He moves from journalistic objectivity to the intensely personal with ease, enjoying the kind of access that historians almost never get.” The Washington Post
“It is Cohen's good fortune to be on the side of the family that was disinherited. Sweet revenge is the energy behind this glorious book.” Time
“Cohen tells a fascinating story about family bonds in his quest to discover why his mother was cast out. His skewering of his relatives is merciless. . . . Plenty of writers have dissected their less-than-perfect families.Dealing with the issue with this much heart, thoughthat's extraordinary.” People
“This book is an absolute pleasure: expansive, fascinating, funny and full of historical tidbits to read aloud to anyone around.” Salon.com
“Never less than fascinating . . . Sweet and Low might as well be a Balzacian nineteenth-century novel complete with a crisis, a contested will, and a tragic resolution.” Los Angeles Times
“Unfailingly entertaining . . . Echoes the cadences of such literary antecedents as Saul Bellow.” The Wall Street Journal
“Cohen writes entertainingly, lining up characters like objects in a curio cabinet. . . . He is an unusually nimble writer, capable of casually broaching grander themes. By balancing his more ambitious material with Eisenstadt family lore, and moving the drama away from the money he'll never see, he makes the story of Sweet'N Low something more than just a pleasant taste that lingers in the mouth.” The New York Observer
“Cohen is one talented storyteller, and Sweet and Low is a great read. . . . Cohen also offers good servings of history on related topicsthe sugar trade, the diet craze, the migration of Jews to New Yorkmuch of which provides a helpful backdrop to the story. At the heart of this tale is his family, a cast of characters who, owing to Cohen's gifts as a writer, are neither lionized nor demonized.” Library Journal
One reader described this family biography concisely and accurately as "the history of the sweet tooth and the Machiavellian family that tamed it." The Machiavelli at its center is Ben Eisenstadt, the author's grandfather, who built a business empire based on saccharine and dextrose. After World War II, this former short-order cook invented first the sugar packet and then, with the help of his son Marvin, sugar substitute Sweet 'N Low. These discoveries brought immigrant Ben and his family a fortune but also provoked a fierce 40-year battle for control of the company. Now happily disinherited, Rick Cohen recapitulates the saga of his family's twisted American dream with a bittersweet mix of affection and regret.
Cohen's grandfather, Benjamin Eisenstadt, created the artificial sweetener saccharine and modified a tea-bagging machine to produce individual, sanitary packets of sugar substitute, calling it Sweet`N Low. Cohen expands the story beyond the family by incorporating truncated histories of Jews in New York, the saga of sugar alternatives and the rise and fall of Sen. Alfonse D'Amato. Nevertheless, internecine wars over the family fortune, ending with a legal battle over Grandma's will, dominates. Despite the abridgment, accounts of dead relatives tangentially connected to the story and FDA history are rambling and overlong. Fortunately, the tale is laced with enough humor and family shenanigans to keep the listener's attention. Cohen, the son of Eisenstadt's disinherited daughter, has a bit of an axe to grind. As reader, he keeps his voice even, perhaps too level, with the same monotonous emphasis on a noun or adjective in every sentence. A hint of smugness creeps in as Grandpa Ben and his son, Marvin, are convicted of misdeeds that are more low than sweet. Simultaneous release with the FSG hardcover (Reviews, Feb. 13). (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
The history of the artificial sweetener giant-its humble beginnings, its rise to prominence, and the high-profile criminal doings that got into the mix-would be interesting enough. When the saga is written by the (disinherited) grandson of the inventor, who combines the product's history with his personal quest for the truth and his considerable skills at crafting compelling tableaux, you have one sweet read. Cohen (contributing editor, Rolling Stone; Tough Jews) doesn't just rely on family anecdotes; he digs through court records, interviews relatives (some won't talk with him), and peruses library microfilm to reveal various layers of truth. Everything from the origins of the name Sweet and Low and its packet design to his family's involvement in organized crime is up for investigation. Cohen also offers good servings of history on related topics-the sugar trade, the diet craze, the migration of Jews to New York-much of which provides a helpful backdrop to the story. At the heart of this tale is his family, a cast of characters who, owing to Cohen's gifts as a writer, are neither lionized nor demonized. Cohen is one talented storyteller, and Sweet and Low is a great read. Recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/05.]-Jennifer Zarr, NYPL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
How the author's family invented Sweet'N Low, got rich, collapsed in scandal and set him free by disinheritance. The first and best section of this haphazard book by Cohen (Machers and Rockers, 2004, etc.) follows the rise of his grandfather, Ben Eisenstadt, born in New York in 1906 to Polish-Jewish immigrant parents. Eisenstadt supplemented his slow-going law career by opening a diner across from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It boomed with the war years, then went bust, so he opened a factory in which loose tea was packed into tea bags. Thinking the technique might be adapted to sugar, he suggested the idea to sugar companies, who thanked the naive, patent-less inventor and started making the packets themselves. Only later did Ben and his son Marvin turn saccharin into Sweet'N Low, the sugar substitute that would take the world by storm. mob-associated guys who liked to bill the company for the construction of their mansions. Cohen's wing of the family was disinherited after a dramatic and truly ugly fight about a will presided over by Aunt Gladys, a misanthropic shut-in who wielded frightening powers via telephone and fax. Cohen can't quite decide what kind of book he's writing: He offers a mini-history of sugar here, confusing family history there. But at its best, sardonically dissecting an unlikely success, it spins gold. A cracked family saga and an ode to Brooklyn, that incubator of immigrants and ideas.