It was Marlene Dietrich who defined the trouble with the overly fussy cocktail: “Bad for you, and trouble for the bartender.” Bernard DeVoto, author The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto, would have agreed. He was a noted figure in 20th-century letters; he edited Lewis and Clark’s journals and oversaw the release of that masterpiece of posthumous atheism, Mark Twain’s Letters From the Earth.

This knowledge of American history gives some weight to the prediction DeVoto made when this compact volume was first published in 1948: “If the Republic ever comes crashing down, the ruin will have been wrought by this lust for sweet drinks.”

What DeVoto ultimately pulls for is either a well-made martini shaken with lots of ice or, simply, “a slug of whiskey.” It’s bourbon that DeVoto praises the most highly: bourbon and its lighter cousin rye, as American as the Washington Monument and far more useful.

One feels that it is a patriotic duty to purchase some Maker’s Mark or Bulliet to consume while imbibing DeVoto’s prose about the power of positive drinking: “In England, they call for a division, and the ministry falls; in Russia, they shoot a thousand commissars, but in freedom’s land, they recess, speak the hallowed words of Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, and send out for a statesman’s standby and some soda. Strife ceases, the middle way is found, the bill gets passed, and none shall break our union.”

If that passage doesn’t drive you to drink, perhaps you share the spirit of the Lemonade Lucys who infest D.C. now: far less bibulous than the old days, but far more fractious.

The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto
By Bernard DeVoto
Tin House Books
$16.95 hardback