cover image The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek

The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek

Howard Markel. Pantheon, $35 (528p) ISBN 978-0-307-90727-1

Medical historian Markel (An Anatomy of Addiction) delves into the contentious relationship between two highly accomplished brothers, exploring their impact on American culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though they worked together for years, John Harvey Kellogg, founder of Michigan’s Battle Creek Sanitarium, and Will Keith Kellogg, a pioneer in the breakfast-cereal industry, spent much of their lives feuding, both in and out of court. Yet as Markel points out, “The lives and times of the Kellogg brothers afford a superb window through which we can view vast changes in social mores, belief systems, lifestyles, diets, health, science, medicine, public health, philanthropy, education, business, mass advertising, and food manufacturing as they evolved in the United States.” Markel portrays the era as filled with disease, poor nutrition, and random death courtesy of poorly understood medical science. The time was ripe for radical new ideas and swift change. While Markel plays up the brothers’ individual achievements, he likewise examines their failures, such as Kellogg’s belief in eugenics and Will’s perfectionist obsession with his company. “The psychic costs their flaws imposed upon each other were every bit as dear as their outsized talents, imagination, and lasting effect on the world,” Markel concludes. It’s a fascinating look at two people who helped shape a pivotal time. (Aug.)