Dry Wit and Dry Martinis

Sunday, February 15, 2009

In his Spirits column ["Stirrings of a Better Martini," Food, Feb. 4], Jason Wilson was dismissive of critic and historian Bernard DeVoto's opinions on dry martinis and other libations, and he concluded: "Well, at least no one reads him anymore."

A week ago, I pulled from my bookshelf a somewhat decayed copy of DeVoto's "The Year of Decision: 1846," first published in 1942. I have been enjoying it immensely. DeVoto wrote of that eventful year in which the "manifest destiny" of the United States to become an ocean-to-ocean continental power began to be realized. He wove his history in a novelistic style around the lives of the persons prominently (and not so prominently) involved in the events of that era. The huge cast of actors and commentators includes President James Polk, Joseph Smith, Winfield Scott, Francis Parkman, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, mountain man Jim Clyman and simple emigrants, many of whom died on that arduous trek to California or Oregon.

His style was witty, sardonic and engaging. I note that DeVoto subsequently won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1947 volume, "Across the Wide Missouri." His judgments on martinis may have been flawed, but if "no one reads him anymore," they have missed some fine writing.



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