How America caught vodka fever

July 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

Brunchtime Bloody Marys, cosmos with the girls, a post-work martini: Vodka-based drinks seem integral to the cocktail today, but it wasn’t always so. In fact, according to Linda Himelstein’s gimlet-eyed “The King of Vodka: The Story of Pyotr Smirnov and the Upheaval of an Empire,” vodka wasn’t even seriously marketed in this country until the mid-1930s, when a Russian-American entrepreneur named Rudolph P. Kunett opened the first vodka factory in the United States, advertising his little-known product to Americans under the following slogan: “Creating a new vogue in cocktails … VODKA by Smirnoff.” How right Kunett was. In just a few decades, fueled by an aggressive Smirnoff marketing campaign that would eventually include James Bond’s famous “shaken not stirred” endorsement, vodka would ascend to its current status as the nation’s top-selling liquor, and Smirnoff to its spot as the bestselling premium spirit in the world …

Review: “The King of Vodka” by Linda Himelstein (The Barnes & Noble Review)

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Let’s hear it for 1959

July 6, 2009 § Leave a comment

Those of us who weren’t yet born in 1959 might think of that year as being pretty much the same as any other. And for all I know, those of you who lived through it do, too. But in his new book, “1959: The Year Everything Changed,” Fred Kaplan, who writes Slate’s “War Stories” column, contends that it was “the year when the shockwaves of the new ripped the seams of daily life, when humanity stepped into the cosmos and also commandeered the conception of human life, when the world shrank but the knowledge needed to thrive in it expanded exponentially … when everything was changing and everyone knew it — when the world as we now know it began to take form” …

In Brief: “1959: The Year Everything Changed” by Fred Kaplan (The Barnes & Noble Review)

Balancing two kids and one show

July 2, 2009 § Leave a comment

Campbell Brown greets me over the phone so warmly, she could be mistaken for my best friend. “Hey!” she exclaims, with a light Southern lilt. It’s that friendly approachability, along with a passion for getting to the heart of the news and some seriously killer cheekbones, that has propelled Brown from the field, where she’s reported on the Iraq War, the Bush White House and Hurricane Katrina, into the anchor chair on her own eponymous news hour. (Campbell Brown airs weekdays at 8 p.m. on CNN.) …

Interview: Campbell Brown (Babble)

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