The Fish That Ate the Whale: A Memoir of Privilege and Loss. Cohen, the disinherited grandson of the artificial sweetener Sweet 'n' Low's inventor, combines two parts Horatio Alger-memoir, one part cultural commentary and three parts personal criticism into a fascinating snapshot of American life, immigrant experience and a broad sermon on the perils of fortune. Cohen's maternal grandfather, Ben Eisenstadt, a mid-grade inventor and Brooklyn restaurateur concocts the idea of selling sugar in individual packets--a revolutionary concept in the age of crusty, unsanitary sugar dispensers.
His idea stolen by the big sugar companies, Cohen squeaks out a post-war living selling his packets in their shadow until he and his son, Marvin, invent the formula for the saccharine sweetener and catch the first big wave of the American diet craze. Those little pink packets create a vast fortune soon tarnished by interfamily squabbles, Mafia influence, FDA edicts and, mostly, the baser aspects of human nature--greed, jealousy and pride.
Cohen, a writer for Rolling Stone and The New Yorker , among other publications, weaves a compelling and often biting narrative about his mother's family. Using those pink packets as metaphor, he paints a dystopic portrait of the American Dream, that, in his family's case, was as devoid of nourishment as any artificial sweetener. 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. 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. See all Editorial Reviews. Product details File Size: March 20, Sold by: Share your thoughts with other customers. Write a customer review. See all customer images. Read reviews that mention sweet and low rich cohen family business new york tough jews pink packets little pink ben eisenstadt uncle marvelous history of sugar aunt gladys family members pink packet great read sugar substitute aunts and uncles sugar packet york times forward to reading wall street.
Showing of 91 reviews. Top Reviews Most recent Top Reviews. There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later. Kindle Edition Verified Purchase. I thought the book was excellent and interesting to see how all the fake sugars came to be. Thinking back on it, a lawyer once told me you would be surprised at how many people cut family members from a will. Here is another one.
Sweet and Low: A Family Story by Rich Cohen
Why they cant do what we did Doesnt matter who did more work or was a favorite kid.. No we did not have millions lol. As for Ellen getting the blame for Bens death I thought this was a very good read. Now, towards the end, I couldn't quite get why the family was disinherited, just that they were. It certainly wasn't a Mommie Dearest sort of thing. There are two sides to most stories and I'm sure there was another side. Not just that the Cohens were hacked out of the will. I'm not saying it was justifiable.
Sweet and Low is the amazing, bittersweet, hilarious story of an American family and its patriarch, a short-order cook named Ben Eisenstadt who, in the years after World War II, invented the sugar packet and Sweet'N Low, converting his Brooklyn cafeteria into a factory and amassing the great fortune that would destroy his family. It is also the story of immigrants to the New World, sugar, saccharine, obesity, and the health and diet craze, played out across countries and generations but also within the life of a single family, as the fortune and the factory passed from generation to generation.
The author, Rich Cohen, a grandson disinherited, and thus set free, along with his mother and siblings , has sought the truth of this rancorous, colorful history, mining thousands of pages of court documents accumulated in the long and sometimes corrupt life of the factor, and conducting interviews with members of his extended family. The author included a purposefully dated Xerox copy of an obituary that encapsulated Sweet and Low's founder and the company's progress through the years.
I liked the novel, promising start. Then book began by describing the writer's history - directly related to the company's founders but cut out of any inheritance. Despite a diagram included at the beginning to help you when you get confused and you will with the large network of family members, I still had a hard time keeping everyone straight. The history lessons started out germane to the story, but I wished the book concentrated more on developing the characters.
I stopped about half way through because I just couldn't get into it anymore. A person with a voracious appetite for history will probably devour this book with its extra history. Just not my favorite kind of reading. I found this book fascinating, in multiple ways. Since moving to Brooklyn, I love walking the streets of Carroll Gardens with the impressions stories of Brooklyn have given me.
This is true for both of Jonathan Lethem novels, and now I'm happy to add to that with this wonderful story of small pink packet, and how it impacted the rise and fall of a truly Brooklyn family.
Buy for others
Most of us are divided either by our love of sweet, or savory. It's as strong as politics or religion. You have to side, and you I found this book fascinating, in multiple ways. You have to side, and you have to decide. Sweet and Low forces you to assess which side of sweet or savory you are on, whether or not you are a purist or not, and whether or not you believe Rich Cohen's side of the family or not. But as demanding as this is, it's presented with enough charm for you to laugh your way to your decision.
I loved this book to the end.
Sweet and Low: A Family Story Book Summary and Study Guide
Through the chemistry of a product and the chemistry of a family. For me, I can't wait to walk the waterfront and see the Cumberland Packing Company, hopefully hear the rumble of machines, and maybe even catch a 'walk and talk'. This is why I love Brooklyn. Aug 19, Ashley rated it did not like it Shelves: What it actually was, was a rambling history of Brooklyn, family squabbles, complaints about being disinherited though the author makes it perfectly clear that of course his family didn't need the money, what with the chartered flights, player pianos, and Concorde jet rides he and his family is accustomed to.
There was a little info about how Sweet 'N Low came to be: Ben Eisenstadt gets frustrated with crusted over sugar dispensers and unsanitary open sugar dishes that everyone dips into with their own spoon and turns his factory in Brooklyn that used to package tea bags into one that manufactures and packages sugar packets. The name is from a Tennyson poem cum song by Sir Joseph Barnby.
Coen touches on the struggles artificial sweeteners have had to endure - various bans and health concerns that have arisen over the years. He also briefly like one line per product tells how various sugar substitues were invented - all except for sucralose Splenda were discovered when a scientist, carelessly fiddling around in his lab, somehows ends up with his fingers or cigarette, in one case in his mouth and realizes they taste sweet. Overall, I found Coen's tone irritating - he does a lot of jumping around in time and acribes motives to other family members seemingly at random.
He whines about his mother's side of the family being cut out of the inheritance but the writing is just weird. I came away with the distinct impression that Coen was hoping writing this book would make someone feel A sorry for him about he whole being disinherited thing and B that he's a really talented writer. Hopefully this someone has connections in the publishing world and can atone for all the wrongs committed against Coen.
Not a fan of this one. The whole thing was just random and disjointed. Aug 05, Liz rated it really liked it Recommended to Liz by: Cohen manages to fit all of fake sugar's saccharin, cyclamate, aspartame, sucralose history into a few pages--although I was constantly wondering why scientists kept discovering these chemical compounds by licking their fingers. But seriously, his commentary on the history of fake sugar and real sugar! It's great social commentary on human greed, slavery, and the modern diet.
But when he starts talking about his family it turns into a whiny, weepy mess. He got screwed out of a will - boo hoo - he is not the only person this has ever happened to. Couldn't make it to the end. This memoir about the family who brought us Sweet and Low was funny in parts, but way too heavy on history lessons for my taste.
Along with the story of this family, which I think is pretty interesting, you also get pages and pages about how New York neighborhoods evolved and all kinds of background about inventions that have only a tangential connection to the story at hand. My suspicion is that the writer promised a book of a certain length and did the college-kid Couldn't make it to the end.
My suspicion is that the writer promised a book of a certain length and did the college-kid scrabble to fill space with anything he could. Jul 11, Carole rated it it was ok Shelves: I wanted to love this book, being a Brooklyn resident and appreciating the historical aspects of the family's history here. However, as much as I laughed at Cohen's telling of family tales, his repetitiveness became not only annoying but confusing. I struggled to keep track of all the family members and which generation they belonged to, and ultimately could care less what happened to them. I have too many other books waiting to be read to continue plodding on with this one.
May 06, Brooke rated it it was ok Shelves: The writing was not particularly interesting or good but the historical fiction element was enjoyable and I suppose the family dynamics were somewhat interesting, but there didn't seem to be too many likable characters to be rooting for and they seemed a little flat.
It's definitely a story and setting driven book. Nov 15, Anita Smith added it Shelves: I thought this book sucked. I basically skimmed it in an attempt to find all this "family drama" that I never actually found. Hell, my family had more drama than this last week.
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And that was a light week for us. Thank God I only paid a dollar for this at a library book sale. Although I still feel like I overpaid. Dec 27, Hannah rated it did not like it. This is the story of the Sweet and Low company, as written by the extremely bitter, disinherited heir. Dec 10, Landismom rated it it was ok Shelves: It's hard to imagine that this book would have been published if it hadn't been about a family connected to Sweet N Low. Moderately interesting, though the inter-family problems are either not clearly written or just not that serious.
A light, entertaining read. This book, about how the fortune of the family owned business Sweet 'N Low fractures the members into haves and have nots, had great potential but in the end, I just didn't like the way it was written. It didn't engage me at all and I had to force myself to finish. Mar 04, Laura rated it it was ok. I am really waffling back and forth between 2 and 3 stars here.
On the one hand, I was very interested in this book and the outcome. The premise is bananas: I was most interested in the way he blended his family's innovations into the history of Brooklyn, the history of sugar, and ho I am really waffling back and forth between 2 and 3 stars here. I was most interested in the way he blended his family's innovations into the history of Brooklyn, the history of sugar, and how diet culture became mainstream in this country.
But here's the problem. Each of these three stories is told in a discrete section, with not enough bringing it back together. It feels like reading three separate books, none of which is wholly satisfying on its own.
Chapter Analysis of Sweet and Low: A Family Story
I wanted so much more history. I suspect people who came to this book for the mafia story may have felt the same way - that section in particular was rushed, confusing, and in the end, a little generic. And as I dove into the disinheritance story, it became pretty uncomfortable. The ways in which Rich Cohen may not be a reliable narrator are just below the surface and never explicitly acknowledged.
I started to wonder if this is just a guy trying to exact revenge on his family by trashing them in this book. It just left a bad taste in my mouth. Nov 24, Susan rated it it was ok Shelves: This is a very sorry story about a dysfunctional immigrant family who made a product that was said to be a carcinogen the warning on Sweet and Low has since been removed and got involved with the mafia and fought over money. Although some of the characters are interesting because they are very quirky and well-describer, I wish they had been thought about with some depth by the author.
What we saw of the people remained superficial. So one ends up reading a lot and still feeling like one doesn' This is a very sorry story about a dysfunctional immigrant family who made a product that was said to be a carcinogen the warning on Sweet and Low has since been removed and got involved with the mafia and fought over money. So one ends up reading a lot and still feeling like one doesn't understand what happened or what people's motivations were.
The author doesn't know either I think. I am glad he wrote it at all. But one gets to the end feeling that one has not got any insight into the story. Also there's very little that's fun or delightful here. Lots of family drama including minor ties to organized crime, lawsuits, disinheriting, and more. Read by the author. An interesting story but very rambling. The author went off on many tangents and the history of artificial sweeteners was buried in the final third. Who knew Sweet and Low had a scandalous telenovella history?
The invention, the legal battles, the mafia, a dying patriarch, a disinherited daughter, and a song that inspired it all. Definitely worth reading if you enjoy public and private business drama. Jul 24, Lenny rated it really liked it. A long and rambling tale of a dysfunctional family to say the least. Sep 15, Brian Bess rated it really liked it.
Millions of little sweet, low, pink heirlooms The pink cover grabbed my attention initially.
I know that color well. I have torn open thousands of packets in that shade as I gratify and sustain my unrepentant vice: What kind of book lurks inside this American Splendor-esque graphic novel cover? Little pink junkie that I am, I told myself I had to read this book. Would it change my attitude toward my cons Millions of little sweet, low, pink heirlooms The pink cover grabbed my attention initially. Would it change my attitude toward my consumption? Habits both good and bad are hard to change.
Perhaps it will shed light on what it is that I ingest that forms such a major chemical compositional role in my life. With a little help from an unsung chemist hero he came across a product that has been as ubiquitous in homes, restaurants and coffee shops as the color of its container. Every family business that grew from small beginnings to massive, empire-like proportions has an origin story as a foundation and a legacy story as its roof.
Rich Cohen provides a tour not only of the entire house, the roof and aerial antenna that became a satellite dish but of the neighborhood, Brooklyn, the Jewish immigrants that populated it and, because his mind goes off on Moby-Dick like tangents, on the history of sugar, the saccharin controversy, NutraSweet, Equal, Splenda, organized crime, bar mitzvahs, sibling squabbling, contestations of wills and alleged medical malpractice, among other topics. No spoiler here since they are all broadcasted loud and clear on the garish pink cover: What did Ben know and when did he know it?