ASHES TO ASHES

ABOUT THE BOOK

Published 1996 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Winner, Pulitzer Prize for Non-fiction
Finalist, National Book Critics’ Circle Prize in History

 

 

Ashes to Ashes is a monumental history of the American tobacco industry: its awesome and ironic success in developing the cigarette, modern society’s most widespread instrument of self-destruction, into the nation’s most profitable consumer product; its energized, work-obsessed royal families, the Dukes and the Reynoldses, and their battling successors like the eccentric autocrat George Washington Hill and the feisty Joseph F. Cullman; its generations of entrepreneurial geniuses; its cunning business strategies and marketing dazzle; its deft political power plays; its relentless, often devious attacks on antismoking forces in science, public health, and government.  And there is the weirdly symbiotic relationship of an industry geared at any cost to sell, sell, sell cigarettes, and an American public habituated to ignore all health warnings and buy, buy, buy.

At the center of this epic is the continuing drama of the Philip Morris company and the crafty men at its helm.  The youngest, once smallest entry in the business, it remained an underdog until the marketing brainstorm that transformed the Marlboro brand from little more than a woman’s fashion accessory to the ultimate emblem of hairy-chested machismo (and made it America’s – and the world’s – #1 smoke) and the fount of the company’s global prosperity, mounting steadily even as the news about cigarettes and health grew more dire by the year.

Caught up in the Philip Morris story is the whole sweep of America’s cigarette history, from the glory days of rampant hucksterism – when smokers would “walk a mile for a Camel,” Winston tasted “good like a cigarette should,” and most of the nation could decipher “L.S. / M.F.T” – to the bombshell 1964 Surgeon General’s Report that definitively indicted smoking as a killer, to the age of the massive mergers that spawned RJR Nabisco and Philip Morris-Kraft General Foods.

Here is how the leaf that was the New World’s most passionately devoured gift to the Old grew into humankind’s most dangerous consumer product, employing whole rural populations, fattening tax revenues, and propagating a ring of fiercely competitive corporate superpowers; how tobacco’s peerless public-relations spinners applied their techniques to becloud the overwhelming evidence of the cigarette’s lethal and addictive nature; and finally, at this historic moment in the cigarette wars, how the besieged industry and the aroused public-health forces nationwide are in fierce collision over whether to outlaw the butt habit altogether or bring it into ever more withering social disdain and under ever tighter government control.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ASHES TO ASHES

THE CRITICAL RESPONSE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*  THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW (lead review by Daniel J. Kevles): “A great battleship of a book – formidable, majestic…armed with an abundance of revealing information, guided with discerning literary skill….  Mr. Kluger invites one to admire these moguls of tobacco the way one appreciates, say, Lenin – as brilliant strategists and resourceful technicians …single-minded in their determination to satisfy [a mass want] and heedless of the human cost of their profit making.”  A behind-the-scenes history of an industry “whose structure, power, and growing vulnerability are so richly illuminated by this monumental and timely book.”

* TIME MAGAZINE (Ellizabeth Gleick) says Ashes to Ashes is “monumental…elegantly written….  It will probably be the definitive volume of the subject of cigarettes in the 20th century.”

* WASHINGTON POST (John Schwartz): “Lively, entertaining, awesomely comprehensive….  The quality of Kluger’s work astonishes throughout: He actually persuaded many top tobacco executives to talk with him….  Getting the kind of good stuff Kluger pulls together is just about miraculous.”

* BOSTON GLOBE (Mark Pendergrast): “A vastly entertaining business saga….  The second strand of the book documents the increasing scientific evidence [against cigarettes]….  It succeeds admirably in portraying the ‘steady drumbeat of denial and disinformation of tobacco lords’….  It will certainly stand as the definitive work on the subject for many years.”

* THE NEW YORKER reviewer Jonathan Franzen writes about “Richard Kluger’s excellent new history of the tobacco industry.”

* THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS (Michael Massing): “[I]t will no doubt stand as the standard history of the tobacco industry for many years to come.”

* USA TODAY (Michael Gartner): “Kluger’s history has more intrigue, is more frightening, and is more powerful than John Grisham’s new thriller about a jury in a tobacco case….  It’s a sad and saddening story of men of men and companies who have knowingly peddled poison….  It will make you cry.”

* THE NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE (Luis G. Escobedo): “…the sign of an excellent book, its interest increases in direct proportion to the reader’s previous knowledge of the subject.  The book is a short history of the science of epidemiology and a discouraging lesson on how knowledge is used, ignored, and ‘spun’ in a struggle with high stakes.  It is a book about power and impotence, about human suffering and human ambition.  The author makes no bones about his stance on the issue, but I find his account well-balanced and thought-provoking.”

* BUSINESS WEEK: “Kluger’s thorough research and well-organized writing make this book the definitive – and very fair – history of the most controversial industry of our time.” THE WALL STREET JOURNAL reviewer concurred, saying Ashes to Ashes “will stand as the authoritative source on how we wound up in a disastrous dilemma.” THE FINANCIAL TIMES review began: “Perhaps the greatest tribute one can pay the author of this monumental history…is that at the end of 807 pages, it is impossible to say with certainty whether or not he smokes.  Such objectivity is rare on an issue where the level of debate tends to hover close to the edge of hysteria.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION: Kluger’s…masterful history…is a tightly woven tapestry, by turns rollicking business yarn, insightful political analysis, detailed investigative piece and richly textured social history.”

* DETROIT NEWS/FREE PRESS:Ashes to Ashes will become a classic text to explain the hurdles confronting public health in America and abroad.”

* HOUSTON CHRONICLE says “Kluger racks up his evidence with what seems to be the meticulousness of a lawyer hired both to defend and prosecute.”  The DALLAS MORNING NEWS agrees that “Kluger is scrupulously fair.”  The DENVER POST termed it “a tour de force of unique dimensions… a huge, carefully researched volume.”

* MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE: Kluger “has written what will surely be one of the year’s most influential, and also most readable, books.”

* PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER:  Ashes to Ashes is “awesomely researched and elegantly written.”  The KANSAS CITY STAR rates it “an important, thoughtful, and provocative book.”

* TORONTO GLOBE & MAIL: “[T]his even-handed…opus interweaves an exquisitely written business history…with a Greek chorus chronicle on the parallel medical research coups that uncovered smoking’s lethal impact.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ASHES TO ASHES

EXCERPTS