...a nuanced and ultimately devastating indictment of government complicity with the worst excesses of American capitalism. The Cigarette looks beyond individual consumers and their choices and aims its penetrating gaze straight at the larger phenomena shaping all of our lives: the exigencies of war, the rise of organized interest groups, the fall of government regulators, and the immense, unseen influence of big business ...The Cigarette, while excellent, is far from the first book to document the harm wrought by Big Tobacco ... But Milov has provided the premier account of the government’s complicity with the exacting of this human cost, of the way Big Tobacco has evolved and adapted and neutralized lawmakers and regulators—and thrived. And of a billion needlessly lost lives. The lessons of her book remain stunningly relevant today.
Ms. Milov writes with the moral earnestness of a liberal dragon-slayer. There is no doubt who the dragons are in her story ... Cigarette companies, out of a desire to deny or at least complicate the claim of a direct link between smoking and disease, produced 'scientific subterfuge'; the tobacco industry’s lobbying arm, the Tobacco Institute, disseminated 'propaganda.' These and many similar unflattering descriptors seem out of place in a historical monograph. Ms. Milov’s zeal for the antismoking cause sometimes appears a tad propagandistic itself ... is otherwise an impressive work of scholarship evincing years of spadework in primary and secondary sources. It’s also, apart from a whiff here and there of academic jargon, a well-told story. Ms. Milov has an eye for detail.
Milov manages to bring fresh insight into how the industry’s power hooked government treasuries, the advertising business and scientists for hire, to trump public health for so long ... What Milov adds is a nuanced account of the interplay between corporate machinations and government support for the industry from the 1930s until very recently ... As ever, the callousness of tobacco’s defenders continues to shock.
[Milov] delivers not a singular epic, but descriptions of historical episodes that function like well-observed, interconnected short stories, each untangling a unique aspect of the tobacco industry’s embeddedness in the United States’s political economy. By the end, the clear outlines of the old epic’s heroes and villains are considerably hazier ... As with any good short story writer, Milov’s strength is her rhetorical restraint ... Describing the politics of the cigarette in successive eras, she engages deeply in analyses of political economy, and yet the economy of her prose is not unlike that of Flannery O’Connor ... Though she has an eye for charming details, Milov analyzes the tactics of grassroots groups with the practical spirit of a Saul Alinsky ... Readers may or may not agree with Milov’s conclusion that the movement for nonsmokers’ rights, while laudable, 'unwittingly catalyzed a conservative political strategy whose far-reaching effects are scarcely fathomable, and all too real.' But her politically infused tales are likely to teach any reader something new about countless aspects of American government ... Ultimately, it was Milov’s style that really captured me. Her ability to deliver single sentences of incisive analysis fulfills Flannery O’Connor’s mandate for the short story, applied masterfully to describe political moments ... At the macro level, her work serves to recapture a sense of possibility in historical junctures that have already closed, thus implicitly opening a wider range of future possibilities.
The story of smoking in the United States is usually presented as a struggle between heroic scientists and activists on the one hand, fighting to get the truth out to the public, and mendacious tobacco industry executives on the other, manipulating members of Congress. Eventually truth and health prevail. In The Cigarette: A Political History, Sarah Milov provides a more interesting and complicated account. The rise and fall of the cigarette in the US was, she shows, intertwined with the country’s transition from the associational state created by the New Deal to the stripped-down neoliberal state of our own time. And a major advance in public health was accomplished through the mobilisation of a parsimonious social vision. This wasn’t just a tale of heroes and villains.
In her first book, Milov (history, Univ. of Virginia) keenly describes the history of the U.S. tobacco industry during the 20th century, arguing that the government promoted smoking beginning with the New Deal ... Drawing on a wide variety of trade publications, government studies, and activist literature, Milov provides a thoughtful and penetrating analysis of both the tobacco industry, and its relationship to government.
Milov...mixes big-picture academic theory with fascinating, specific details to illuminate the rise and fall of tobacco production—and cigarette sales—in the United States ... A fine history of 'the political economy of tobacco.'