Here we are. Thomas Lipton. I’ll pick up any teabook, really, and I enjoy reading about any bit of tea history. Important figures, especially recent ones, hold a special place for me. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, seeing as my most popular post was a breakdown of the history of John Murchie, and I constantly defend Tazo because of Steven Smith. Either way, Lipton is usually said with a snear in tea-going circles.
Sir Tea is interesting in his own right, so when I spotted this book at the library, I ended up dropping my reading list (again) to pick it up. For added context, I was in the library to do homework. That shows how good a student I am.
If you picked this one up to learn about Lipton’s tea and his involvement in the Ceylon tea industry, I’d put it back down again. This is about the man, and the man wasn’t always about the tea. It takes until the end of chapter 5 for tea to make its intro, and after that, not a whole lot is spent in the Ceylon gardens. It doesn’t detract from the book–it’s a biography, obviously, not a tea history book. But it’s worth noting before picking it up. By about chapter 7, the book’s moved full-swing into his yachting obsession.
I still personally enjoyed it, but I do also just enjoy a good bit of history. D’Antonio has a habit of jumping around a bit, and isn’t afraid to spend long lengths of time introducing other characters in Lipton’s life. I did feel like it got off-track a bit at times, but it usually tied back into the main story at some point. Lipton was, apparently, a solid player in both more widely introducing Ceylon tea in a time when China tea was still seen as the only “pure” drink, and re-introducing tea to an America where tea-drinking had declined dramatically since the Boston Tea Party (in favour of coffee).
I did want to discuss Lipton’s homosexuality at some point, but I couldn’t think of a way to broach it. So here we are. After I picked the book up, I scanned reviews and was disappointed–not so much in the book–but more in reviewers. I won’t bring up specifics, but there is this bizarre penchant these days for reviewers to award authors for “acknowledging gays, but not like, acknowledging them too much so that I, a straight person, am not made to feel uncomfortable”. I think D’Antonio did a fine job, although it did leave me wishing I knew more about William Love. Unfortunately, google searches revealed very little.
Now that I’ve read this, I would like to pick up The Man who Invented Himself: A Life of Sir Thomas Lipton to compare. I read an excerpt, and it does seem more in-depth, and A Full Cup does reference it a few times. I might make it a to-do list to compare a few biographies. For those interested, A Full Cup does list some of the Lipton-biography references used.
- Sir Thomas Lipton and the America Cup, by Charles T. Bateman
- The King’s Grocer: The Life of Sir Thomas Lipton, by Robert A. Crampsey
- The Man Who Invented Himself, by James Mackay
- The Lipton Story, by Alec Waugh
I liked the book, even though overall I didn’t find it hugely engaging; it wasn’t as dry as some books can be, but it is a history book written for mainstream media. As one reviewer put it, “D’Antonio’s biography brings to vivid life this remarkable figure.”