Michael Bellesiles: Bartender, Writer, History Buff
You may have met him in his role as charismatic bartender at Restaurant L&E in Chester, but you might not know about Michael Bellesiles's day-job. Michael is a writer and a serious history buff-an adjunct history teacher at Central Connecticut State University and the author of 10 books on American history. His latest book, A People's History of the U.S. Military, just hit the shelves.
"I read a lot, and along the way I got a Ph.D. in history from the University of California," he says. "All my books are historical; all are on American history, and all are on issues circulating around violence."
His 10th book is a take on Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, a history book written from the perspective of everyday citizens while touching on the larger forces that shaped them. Michael's tome does the same thing for ordinary American soldiers. Through early personal accounts from letters and diaries-as well as Michael's own discussions during his volunteer work with veterans over the past 24 years-the book shows soldiers reflecting on their experiences of war from the American Revolution to Afghanistan.
"I'm just interested in how people experience combat," he says. "When it comes to war, just showing up is an act of heroism in my personal opinion-these are the people I celebrate in this book."
Michael's idea for the book was sparked two years ago when his friend Billy Angier found a World War I doughboy's diary and sketch pad at the Essex Transfer Station.
"I was absolutely staggered that someone would throw this away," says Michael, who's lived for four years in Chester with his wife, Nina Martin. "It's an incredibly personal story that was about to be lost forever. I don't like the idea that history is something we just throw away. I hope that people who read my book will look at and treat veterans with renewed respect."
Michael's worked as bartender at L&E for the past two years. Before that, he served drinks not just in the United States, but in Mexico, Canada, and Europe.
"American bartenders, I'm happy to say, are very much in demand around the world," he says. "We make the best cocktails in the world."
Born in Los Angeles, Michael's lived in all four parts of the British Isles, as well as Spain, France, Italy, and Germany-but he's settled in Chester.
"I love it. I keep joking with my wife my next paycheck is going to be Social Security. I'm not going anywhere; it's a great little town," he enthuses. "It's just very welcoming."
Like all good bartenders, Michael can hint at a sordid past. In 2002, he was awarded the prestigious Bancroft Prize for his book Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture-a prize that was rescinded for "scholarly misconduct." The book provoked the NRA by blaming America's violence on its gun culture.
"Unfortunately, Arming America evoked a highly politicized debate," he says. "It remains dangerous to write about firearms, even when discussing events two and three centuries ago."
When not serving drinks, Michael writes, bikes, makes his own syrups and bitters, and researches new drinks for L&E's menu. One recent creation, Cersei's Ruin, was inspired by one of his favorite shows, Game of Thrones.
"I experiment; my wife and I dedicate ourselves to the science of making drinks," says Michael.
While he enjoys making drinks, perhaps the best part for Michael is the people he meets.
"I meet amazing people and make them-temporarily at least-a little bit happier," he says.
Jan Cummings and Peter Good of Cummings & Good are hosting a book launch for A People's History of the U.S. Military on Come Home to Chester Night, Friday, Sept. 21, from 5 to 8 p.m. in the second-floor gallery at C&G, 3 North Main Street, Chester. The event also celebrates the publication of the calendar BIRD 2013 with photographer William Burt and a display of his work.