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Ardent spirits; the rise and fall of…
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Ardent spirits; the rise and fall of prohibition (1973)

by John Kobler

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332338,203 (3.67)3
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    Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City by Michael A. Lerner (baobab)
    baobab: An excellent history of Prohibition in New York City, with special emphasis on politics, including national politics as it affected NYC, and as NYC affected the politics of the nation.
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I honestly expected more from this book. There is surely a lot of material, a great many little info covering some three hundred years of history. Still, it fails to give a complete portrait of the era... of any era, actually.

I've read quite a few books on Prohibition, and this is the one that starts further back in history. You can say that it starts right back when the United State were born. It relates American behaviours in fact of liquor in those early days, how people acted, what people believed, what they suffered because of alcohol. It traces the first laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol to Indians back in the XVIII century. No other book I read started that far.
But even in these early chapters appears what it will be the main attitude of this book: not a social history. Not the history of people living an era, shaping it and being shaped by it. But a series of anecdotes, some of which very gossipy, that never creates a picture of the whole.

More than half of the book concerns itself with everything that came before Prohibition. First of all, the numerous temperance societies that flourished in the XIX century, although they're never placed inside the society which produced them, so that they feel kind of isolated, as if they lived on a separate level than ordinary people. The author often just focuses on personalities, the weirdest, the better. He relates strange courses of life, weird carriers or attitude, questionable information about well known characters. Never does he place these people in context.
As a reader, I had a very hard time figuring out how these people stood inside their time and place, how much they were expression of a general feeling, how much they were just weird characters. Even trying to connect the lives of people living in the same period, I was never able to built a comprehensive image of the time.

The part regarding Prohibition proper was even worse. Here, we still have a few portrays of prominent people, but the exposition becomes even more sketchy. The author drops the chronological movement of the story - which had given some order to the first part - and arranges chapters in a thematic way, which - for me at least - was even more confusing, because you lose every possible reference.
Personalities are portrayed with even less attention, never are they put in context. Historical facts are barely related. There is no sense of how it was to live in that period, nor how life and attitudes changed over the thirteen years of Prohibition. If I hadn't read other books on the subject, I'd have no idea why at a certain point the idea of repeal became popular. The reasons that made repeal possible are very swiftly - and in my opinion, very inadequately - covered.

Maybe it was my fault to expect more of a social history form this book. There are, it's true, a lot of fun information about the subject, but personally, I don't think this is what makes history friendly to read.
  JazzFeathers | Jul 27, 2016 |
This is a fine popular history of prohibition as a movement, culminating in Prohibition as the amendment to the constitution. The focus is mostly on personalities, with frequent narrative interruptions for excerpts from primary source material, usually memoirs, diaries or interviews. Lots of colorful characters are described throughout the book, especially the section describing attempts at law enforcement during Prohibition. There isn't much discussion of the prohibition movement itself during Prohibition, or after it. This is a wonderful introduction to a fascinating era. ( )
  baobab | Sep 25, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 030680512X, Paperback)

Ardent Spirit covers the full range of the temperance idea in America, beginning in the early seventeenth century and continuing through the prohibition years, 1919–1933. Using a wide variety of sources, Kobler quotes the amusing and often startling comments relating to the efforts of prohibitionists and lawmakers, so that the speakeasies, the rum-running, the bootleggers, and the gang wars all come vividly to life. Here too are portraits of eccentrics, instant millionaires, law enforcement officers, and murderers—all part of the Noble Experiment which proved to be one of the most tragicomic sagas in American history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:51 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

From the Publisher: Ardent Spirit covers the full range of the temperance idea in America, beginning in the early seventeenth century and continuing through the prohibition years, 1919-1933. Using a wide variety of sources, Kobler quotes the amusing and often startling comments relating to the efforts of prohibitionists and lawmakers, so that the speakeasies, the rum-running, the bootleggers, and the gang wars all come vividly to life. Here too are portraits of eccentrics, instant millionaires, law enforcement officers, and murderers-all part of the Noble Experiment which proved to be one of the most tragicomic sagas in American history.… (more)

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