cover image Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America’s Fast-Food Kingdom

Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America’s Fast-Food Kingdom

Adam Chandler. Flatiron, $14.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-250-09072-0

Everybody, “no matter how refined the palate or how anointed the social status,” has a fast food pleasure, freelance writer Chandler states in his perceptive cultural history of the restaurants he identifies as a quintessentially American innovation. The book begins in a flurry of vivid portraiture of the genre’s titanic innovators. These tales of larger-than-life individuals—including the cussing-and-cooking “ham who served chicken” caricature Harlan Sanders (Kentucky Fried Chicken) and the famously “cruel” yet meticulously meritocratic Ray Kroc (McDonald’s)—start as glorious capitalist pirate tales but end with those idiosyncratic visions being “swallowed up by the burgeoning corporate state.” Chandler shows how the democratic spread of cheap, fast food reflects different periods in American history, from the prewar Upton Sinclair–inspired push for clean industrialized dining, to the postwar sprawl of prosperous highway-linked suburbs, and ultimately to the current divide over “interpretations of purity” in what constitutes healthy fast food. He throws cold water on the idea that “fast casual” eateries such as Chipotle are anything new, pointing out that their clean-looking aesthetic just harkens back to the industrial appeal of hamburger restaurants such as White Castle. This fun, argumentative, and frequently surprising pop history of American fast food will thrill and educate food lovers of all speeds. (June)