This work of family history traces the story of Ben Eisenstadt and his family of inventors, entrepreneurs, and sometimes less-than-competent businesspeople. Ben, an unsuccessful lawyer in 1950s Brooklyn, sits one day in a greasy spoon diner with his wife, and laments the unsanitary offering of sugar in open bowls and dirty dispensers. Why not put the sugar into individual, portion-controlled packets, he wonders. And so a great idea is born - and borrowed. Eisenstadt lacked the foresight to patent his first invention, and it was subsequently adopted by large food producers.
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Eisenstadt's second invention, concocted with his son Marvin, becomes far more lucrative. While the sugar substitute saccharin has been available by prescription to some Americans, Ben and Marvin want to make it more widely available in the nascent American dieting craze as a sort of sugar without sugar's negative consequences. They manage to patent and produce the product, Sweet'N Low, making a fortune in the process. They learn to play the lobbying game, fighting a FDA-backed saccharin ban, and Sweet'N Low nourishes three generations of the Eisenstadt family.
With wealth comes fractiousness, however; indeed, the book's author is a grandson of the family founder. When Marvin, Ben's son, takes over the company from his father, the fate of Sweet'N Low takes a turn for the worse. Competitors, including those responsible for aspartame and sucralose, chip away at Sweet'N Low's market share, but Marvin sees no threat. Mafia-related criminals are hired to work in the senior echelons
of company management, embezzling millions of dollars and bringing on charges of tax evasion. Marvin remains an ambiguous character through all of this: is he aware and complicit, or is he in fact duped by his charismatic managers?
It is a certainty that Marvin's son, Jeff, will assume leadership of the company after his father. As indifferent to the fate of the company as his father was, Jeff continues to run Sweet'N Low, now trailing well behind its competitors in market share, but pursuing no obvious alternative business opportunities. Ultimately, the story of the Eisenstadts, and Sweet'N Low, becomes the story of how a brilliant product - a packaged, no-cal sugar
substitute - launched at the right time - the postwar diet craze - could carry generations of greedy and indifferent family members.
The review of this Book prepared by Jan Arata