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Book Review: Red Likker by Irvin S. Cobb

Unread postPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2008 3:21 pm
by cowdery
Irvin S. Cobb was an American author, humorist, and columnist who lived in New York and authored more than 60 books and 300 short stories. His novel, Red Likker, was published in 1929. It concerns a Kentuckian named Bird and follows his life from his family's pioneer beginnings through his service in the Civil War (on the side of the Confederacy), his career as a successful distiller, ending with Prohibition. The novel's climax is based on some actual events that occurred during Prohibition at the Forks of Elkorn Distillery.

This is not a great book and is, in fact, barely readable. I've gotten through it a couple of times because I'm interested in the general subject of early Kentucky history and the very specific subject of the origins of the whiskey-making industry there. Is Cobb's history accurate? One only hopes that, writing it when he did, he had access to persons who had lived through that very era, which provided him with insights unavailable to us now.

One interesting thing about his Colonel Bird is that he is a man of the highest principles, brought more sharply into focus by the duplicity of just about everyone around him.

A disclaimer: I can't, at the moment, find my copy, so the above is all from memory. Here is what I wrote about it in 2004, when I obtained the now-misplaced copy.

It's the story of the fictional Bird family of Kentucky, the Bluegrass region specifically, who are early distillers. The principal character is one Attila Bird, who after fighting for the Confederacy returns to Kentucky to establish a distillery. He lives long enough to see everything he has worked for destroyed by Prohibition, during which bleak period the surprising climax of the story unfolds.

How is it? Not very good, actually. The word hokum comes to mind. Some of it is truly painful. But it paints a picture the way fiction does that even the best history book can't achieve. As the only novel I know of that covers this subject matter, it doesn't have to be good, since it's the best.

Re: Book Review: Red Likker by Irvin S. Cobb

Unread postPosted: Sun Jul 06, 2008 6:33 pm
by bourbonv
A very good review. I have never read the book but I have seen a copy or two. I was tempted to read it but was always too busy reading non-fiction to take the time to read Red Likker. Maybe I will take the time sometime soon to do so.

Re: Book Review: Red Likker by Irvin S. Cobb

Unread postPosted: Sun Jul 06, 2008 7:22 pm
by cowdery
In its favor, it's a quick read.