Sibling rivalries are as old as . . . well, you know. But if you like them with some extra snap, crackle and pop, your best bet is Howard Markel’s story of brothers John and Will Kellogg, who put Battle Creek, Michigan, on the map in the first half of the 20th century. In The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek, Markel tells their intertwined stories with a great deal of skill and flair, opening a window into both American societal history and the complications of familial relationships.
Born to a pioneer family in rural Michigan, the brothers ascended to the top of their chosen professions—medicine for John, business for Will. But with contrasting personalities and an eight-year age difference, they were at odds almost from the beginning—and certainly to the end. It makes for a sad family history, but entertaining reading.
John, interested in medicine from an early age, founded the famed Battle Creek Sanitarium, known as “The San,” which thousands of people flocked to, seeking relief from various ailments. Will, the younger of the two, bounced around a bit before finding his niche running the sanitarium—and, fatefully, helping John develop health foods, including a ready-to-eat cold cereal that would replace the hot mush most families consumed in those days. That’s where the fissure turned into a chasm, as Will went out on his own to found the Kellogg Company, today a multinational food behemoth. The sanitarium started going downhill during the Great Depression and eventually was converted into a federal center.
Markel, an NPR contributor and a physician himself, doesn’t take sides as he leads us through the family thicket, and there’s plenty of blame to go around, anyway.