A college dropout who went on to become a college professor will talk about her latest book — on beer and the American dream — tonight (Thursday) at a bookstore in Ames. Maureen Ogle says it’s the latest of several books she’s written that deal with academic topics but are aimed at the general reading public.
“After I finished messing up my life, I actually decided to go back to college,” she admits, and got a PhD degree. Six years into a teaching career, she decided she hated it, and became “a refugee from academia.” Still, Ogle decided she could put the degree to use, writing history for a general audience. Few professional historians want to do that, Ogle says, because they think it’s beneath their dignity.
“It’s not beneath my dignity,” Ogle declares. “I think the reason we have so much trouble with our history in this country is that nobody cares enough to convey it to ordinary people.” Her latest book is titled “Ambitious Brew — The Story of American Beer.” Once she chose the topic, it took her five years to finish this book and she says the first three chapters were the hardest.
“We have not preserved our brewing history in the country,” Ogle says. “We are probably the only Western country that doesn’t have a brewery museum. Most of the old breweries have been leveled, the documents have long since ended up as landfill.” There was little material, but she says it was just the opposite for the last two chapters, where she had so much material it was tough sifting through it all to figure out “what was the story.” She says instead of just a history of beer, it turned into a book about who we are as Americans, and the pursuit of “the American dream.”
“I really didn’t intend that when I started,” she insists. But as she researched it became clear that that’s what these people were doing, pursuing their piece of the dream, though it’s not a concept we talk about that much any more. “I saw it being played out in the lives of these people, over the 150 years that this book covers.” It begins with the German immigrants who came in the middle of the 19th century, bringing beer with them and finding the opportunity to set up in business. She says it’s a story that’s still being played out today.
Ogle says it seems like very day someone’s opening a new brewery in this country — three decades ago there were only 44 breweries in this country but today she says there are about 1500, which shows the passion people have for beer, but also the sense people have that if they’ve got a vision they can still pursue it. She says she gets offered a lot of beer to taste but sadly, she declares she’s really no expert. Ogle will talk about her book and sign copies from seven to nine P.M. tonight at the Loft, in downtown Ames.