Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Whiskey Rebels

David Liss

This is my third review of a David Liss novel, my most recent literary enthusiasm. The title might lead you to think that this historical novel is about the 1794 western Pennsylvania insurrection, put down by George Washington with troops provided by Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In fact the action predates that rebellion by two years, although the whiskey tax, imposed by congress to raise funds for Alexander Hamilton's efforts to pay off the debt incurred during the revolution and finance the Bank of the United States, plays a big part in the story.

It was an undue burden on the farmers of the west, which means Pittsburgh in 1792, to pay a tax in cash on the production of whiskey. These farmers could not get their grain to market, due to a lack of roads to the east and the closure of the Mississippi river to American commerce by Spain. They made whiskey instead and bartered that whiskey for the necessities of life. Lack of access to markets also created a shortage of hard money, so whiskey became the currency of the west. Thus the farmers had no money to pay the tax.

Liss likes to use the financial sector of a society in his historical novels. In this case it is Hamilton's bank, the speculation in banking stocks and the panic of 1792 that he uses to create a plot,written like a crime novel, with lots of twists and mysteries. He writes the book from two points of view. One is a disgraced former spy, now a drunkard living in Philadelphia, who takes on the challenge of finding his ex-fiance's missing husband. The other is a woman who moved to the west with her revolutionary war veteran husband to homestead on land offered in exchange for his bounty warrant, promised by Congress but not delivered.

The action brings the two together in Philadelphia and New York working together, or perhaps against each other, as William Duer attempts to take over the Bank of the United States and causes a general economic collapse. Historical characters, like Duer and Hamilton and real events, particularly Duer's catastrophic attempt on the bank, are used in subtle ways, to move the plot forward to it's surprising conclusion. He weaves in the whiskey tax, the unmet promises to war veterans and the greed of speculators with their undue influence on the government. The Whiskey Rebels could be read as a metaphor for our current economic situation.

Liss is able to make banking and stock manipulation exiting, to mix historical fact with fantastic invention seamlessly. Chances are good that more of his novels will appear on this blog soon.


This post is in the 84th
Book Review Blog Carnival

Published at One Book Per Week.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Guild Guitar Book

The company and the instruments 1952-1977
Hans Moust

The Guild Guitar Book is the definitive guide for collectors of vintage Guild guitars. It contains a short history of the company, founded by Alfred Dronge in 1952. Dronge took the opportunity to hire skilled craftsmen, in New York, who were laid off by the Epiphone company when Epiphone was acquired by Gibson and all of Epiphone's production was moved to the Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, MI. Guild quickly became a popular brand, played by musicians like Missisippi John Hurt, Dave Van Ronk, Paul Simon, Muddy Waters and Jerry Garcia.

Guild has gone through several moves and acquisitions itself over the years. The first being a move to bigger facilities in Hoboken, New Jersey. Fortunately for the former Epiphone employees, Hoboken was accessible to them by subway. Not too many years later, production was moved, again to larger facilities, in Westerly Rhode Island. This was more disruptive and new people had to be hired and trained to work in the Westerly factory.

The Guild Guitar Book does not go past 1977, while Guild was still located in Westerly. I had an exchange of emails with the author, who tells me that he would like to bring out a new edition, which would bring the book up to date. He has hinted that he might put a picture of my own Guild (built in Hoboken in 1964) in this new edition if it ever comes out.

It is certainly time for a second edition. This book covers only to first 25 years of this 59 year old company. Production has been moved, since the company's purchase in 1995, to Corona California, Takoma Washington and, just last year, New Hartford Connecticut. Most guitars Guild builds, though, are still based on designs developed before 1977. 

Most of the book contains detailed information, with photographs of the different guitar models built by Guild, to be used by collectors to identify and date instruments. It is only good for the older, New York, Hoboken and Westerly built guitars, of course, but those are the ones that collectors concentrate on and Hans is most helpful if you send him an email regarding any Guild from any period.

Most of the book contains detailed information, with photographs of the different guitar models built by Guild, to be used by collectors to identify and date instruments. It is a rather specialized reference. I was very happy to receive a copy as a gift. Now I need to expand my collection.

This post is in the 83rd
Book Review Blog Carnival

Published at Kitsch Slapped.