his was one of our selected Fall 2020 pre-order titles and we’re happy to say that it’s fully as strong as we expected it to be.
This careful, insightful biography of James Beard reaffirms his place as one of the great forces that shaped twentieth-century American cooking. At the same time it addresses his sexuality, a factor inextricably linked with his work and character.
Birdsall, himself a two-time winner of the writing awards named for his subject, conjures intricate pictures of Beard at every stage of his life, drawing on a wide range of sources. His citations are amply endnoted and supported by an extensive source list that cites correspondence, interviews with many of Beard’s friends and associates, books, films, and oral histories. They’re integral to Birdsall’s effort to separate the mythology that Beard conjured around himself as an icon of American food from the curtain he drew across his private life as a gay man.
A West Coast provincial who made himself integral to New York’s and America’s food scene, Beard interacted with an astonishing array of people, mentoring many, and the book’s index is packed with names such as Julia Child, Helen Evans Brown, Judith Jones, Craig Claiborne, Barbara Kafka, and Marion Cunningham. During his lifetime, American food was being steadily redefined by the country’s increasing interaction with other nations, just as the presence of queer people in society was slowly evolving under the insistence of those who sought a more open role in public life.
The wise and avuncular aura that Beard projected would be a tool for making his mark. But it would have a cost, one that imposed itself on every aspect of his life and career, even at the hands of his friends and colleagues, many of whom were as invested in his myth as he.
Hardcover. 16 pages of photographs.