2007: 73. Sweet and Low

“Everyone in my family tells this story, but everyone starts it  in a different way.”

Sweet and Low, Rich Cohen

This is a very interesting story.  So interesting that it makes up for the fact that the book is a little lacking.  Basically, Cohen’s mother is the daughter of the inventor of Sweet and Low, the sugar substitute, which was a multi-million dollar invention.  However, for reasons that never really become totally clear, his mother was cut out from the family fortune and ultimately disinherited.  But, as Cohen puts it, “To be disinherited is to be set free!” and he is free to tell the crazy, crooked and corrupt story of Sweet and Low - the story of post-war Brooklyn, the dieting craze in America, sugar and organized crime.  

It is, no question, a great story - there is so much going on.  Cohen’s crazy ancestors and family, including his grandmother who limited the love she had and found she didn’t have enough for her daughters, her eccentric uncle (who could afford it - he didn’t get cut out), his aunt who hadn’t left the house in thirty years, his uncle who inherited the business and who either was in bed with the Mob or was an absolute idiot (but pled out and escaped punishment).  That is tied in with the history of Sweet and Low and how America’s diet craze became a multi-million dollar business.  

It is fascinating - so interesting that it allows the reader to ignore the fact that a key element is missing from the story.   Much of the story is driven by the fact that Cohen’s side of the family was cut out, but I thought he danced around the ultimate reason why that happened.   Oh he alludes to his grandmother’s inability to love, and the fact that they hired a heart surgeon to operate on his grandfather, but there was something else there.  Why did his grandfather cut his mother out? What really happened?  Cohen (perhaps understandably) doesn’t probe enough at that soft spot, and so the story seems like a piece is missing. 

Believe me, it’s not fatal - this is a darn interesting story, regardless.  But figuring that out, and really addressing it instead of glancing at it could have taken this from a good book to a great one.  After all, with the money, the sugar, the crime and the betrayal, this book really captures the whole American dream.

Recommended for:  People with crazy families; people interested in small businesses and why they fail; people like me who nosily like stories about wackos.


Date/Place Completed:  5/26/07; flying to Seattle

Categories:  Non-Fictio

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017