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Book Review 

by Ted S. McGregor Jr & r & & r & And a Bottle of Rum by Wayne Curtis & r & & r & Subtitled "A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails," this book has a clever conceit: Rum drinks, from Kill-Devil to the Mojito, drive the story of the Americas.

Wayne Curtis is a travel writer by trade, and it shows, as he takes you to the most rum-soaked places in the hemisphere -- Jamaica, Cuba, Trinidad, Massachusetts. And you'll meet some colorful characters, too, from Tiki Bar inventor Donn "the Beachcomber" Beach to Paul Revere, whose fateful ride, legend has it, was fueled by Medford Rum.

It's been said that England went imperialistic because the middle class took a liking to a pinch of sugar in their tea. Rum wasn't far behind, as it was made from the molasses left after sugar was refined. In fact, the early economy of the British colonies in North America and the Caribbean was all about running rum. Molasses piling up in Barbados was sent to New England where they distilled it into rum, which was then sold back to England -- sometimes rum was even traded for slaves in Africa.

Taverns in early America were the crucible in which the new republic was forged: Rum, Curtis argues, brought us our freedom. But one Nicholas Creswell didn't seem to notice. In the momentous year of 1776, he took a bender in the American colonies, and Curtis excerpts his hilarious diary: "All of us got most feloniously drunk." (Jan. 6, 1776) "Spent evening at the Tavern... A confounded mad frolic." (Feb. 2, 1776) "A very mad frolic this evening. Set the house on fire three times and broke Mr. Dream's leg ... got drunk and committed a number of foolish actions." (Nov. 19, 1776)

Curtis's rum ramblings are at their swashbuckling best when he relates the days when pirates lived only to pillage and consume the next hold full of grog. But the story is just as fascinating prior to Prohibition, when the forces of teetotalitarianism outsmarted the rum-lovers (who, "saloon historian" George Ade said, "had been too busy drinking" to organize any opposition).

Another precious quote Curtis mixes in captures perfectly the enduring mystery of a Daiquiri: "The cocktail on my table was a dangerous agent, for it held ... the power of a contemptuous indifference to fate; it set the mind free of responsibility; obliterating both memory and tomorrow"

If a beautiful woman can launch a thousand ships, who's to say the desire for a mad frolic can't drive human history?

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