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Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition…

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (original 2010; edition 2011)

by Daniel Okrent

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917379,569 (4.08)44
Title:Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
Authors:Daniel Okrent
Info:Scribner (2011), Paperback, 480 pages
Collections:Your library, read, Read but unowned, 2012 combined

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Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent (2010)



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This is not the first book on Prohibition I read, but certainly it's the best so far.
It covers basically every possible aspect of Prohibition, from the way the movement started in the XIX century, to how it ended and why.

I like the first part particularly. It detailed the social, ethnic and even religious reasons why the idea of a legal prohibition of alcohol became acceptable in the United States. Many were against it from the beginning, because they thought a federal law should not regulate the personal life of citizens, but the majority finally had they way because of a tightly knotted array of reasons that spanned from social issues like actual abuse of alcohol, to (true or imagined) issues concerning race and immigrants (this part was new to me and particularly enlightening), to politics, religion and economics. I had never realised before how complex the situation was, but here it was detailed clearly, with a lot of documentation and a crisp style that made it easy to read.

The central part was the hardest for me. It goes into a lot of details about every conceivable aspect of Prohibition, from the sacramental wine, to bootlegging, to the involvement of politics and low enforcement. Some of this was already known to me, some was new, but - personally - I found it too detailed and too much of everything. There wasn't a focus, and it seemed to me as if the matter was all over the place. I did find the information interesting, but I think I'd absorbed it more easily and effectively if I'd had less of it, but more focused.

The last part was back on track. It detailed the reasons why Prohibition was finally repealed. There wasn't anything particularly new here (not as much as in the first part), but the narration followed a line, and it was easy to read and understand.

This is certainly a precious source of information for anyone interested in Prohibition in particular, and American history in general. It is well-informed and rich and generally well-written. It does focus on facts more than people and I think this is a weakness of the book. Some important protagonists of Prohibition are merely mentioned in short parts of chapters and I wouldn't even knew who they were had I not read other books on the matter. That is something to complain about, but for the rest, I found it invaluable. ( )
  JazzFeathers | Jul 27, 2016 |
An entertaining, albeit overly detailed, history of prohibition. Prohibition had a lot of ramifications that I had never imagined. ( )
  M_Clark | Apr 26, 2016 |
Simon Vance
  jmail | Mar 21, 2016 |
An interesting history of Prohibition. I learned a lot, but got tired of reading it by the end. ( )
  klburnside | Aug 11, 2015 |
Well done review of the Prohibition thought processes and detailing of the various ways in which society dealt with the banning of their very favorite pastime. ( )
  cyclops1771 | Nov 13, 2014 |
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For my sister, Judith Simon,
and in memory of absent friends:
Robert N. Nylen (1944-2008)
Richard Seaver (1926-2009)
Henry Z Steinway (1915-2008)
First words
(Prologue) The streets of San Francisco were jammed.
America had been awash in drink almost from the start - wading hip-deep in it, swimming in it, at various times in its history nearly drowning in it.
If a family or a nation is sober, nature in its normal course will cause them to rise to a higher civilization. If a family or a nation, on the other hand, is debauched by liquor, it must decline and ultimately perish.
- Richmond P Hobson, in the U.S. House of Representatives, December 22, 1914
The prohibitionists say that the liquor issue is as dead as slavery. The wet people say that liquor can be obtained anywhere. You'd think they'd both be satisfied.
- Marjory Stoneman Douglas, in the Miami Herald, October 7, 1920
The thing that sticks out clearly now is that for years our politics promises to be thoroughly saturated with this wet and dry stuff. It will warp the whole political fabric, prevent clear thinking - even by those who are capable of thinking clearly - and hide the merits of the men who run for office in a fog of feeling.
- Frank Kent, Baltimore Sun, quoted in an Anti-Saloon League reprint, circa 1922
As was said before upon a memorable occasion when the very incarnation of morality was about to be sacrificed, 'What thou doest, do quickly.' - Malcolm C. Tarver, a Georgia dry, in the House of Representatives, December 5, 1932
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743277023, Hardcover)

A brilliant, authoritative, and fascinating history of America’s most puzzling era, the years 1920 to 1933, when the U.S. Constitution was amended to restrict one of America’s favorite pastimes: drinking alcoholic beverages.

From its start, America has been awash in drink. The sailing vessel that brought John Winthrop to the shores of the New World in 1630 carried more beer than water. By the 1820s, liquor flowed so plentifully it was cheaper than tea. That Americans would ever agree to relinquish their booze was as improbable as it was astonishing.

Yet we did, and Last Call is Daniel Okrent’s dazzling explanation of why we did it, what life under Prohibition was like, and how such an unprecedented degree of government interference in the private lives of Americans changed the country forever.

Writing with both wit and historical acuity, Okrent reveals how Prohibition marked a confluence of diverse forces: the growing political power of the women’s suffrage movement, which allied itself with the antiliquor campaign; the fear of small-town, native-stock Protestants that they were losing control of their country to the immigrants of the large cities; the anti-German sentiment stoked by World War I; and a variety of other unlikely factors, ranging from the rise of the automobile to the advent of the income tax.

Through it all, Americans kept drinking, going to remarkably creative lengths to smuggle, sell, conceal, and convivially (and sometimes fatally) imbibe their favorite intoxicants. Last Call is peopled with vivid characters of an astonishing variety: Susan B. Anthony and Billy Sunday, William Jennings Bryan and bootlegger Sam Bronfman, Pierre S. du Pont and H. L. Mencken, Meyer Lansky and the incredible—if long-forgotten—federal official Mabel Walker Willebrandt, who throughout the twenties was the most powerful woman in the country. (Perhaps most surprising of all is Okrent’s account of Joseph P. Kennedy’s legendary, and long-misunderstood, role in the liquor business.)

It’s a book rich with stories from nearly all parts of the country. Okrent’s narrative runs through smoky Manhattan speakeasies, where relations between the sexes were changed forever; California vineyards busily producing “sacramental” wine; New England fishing communities that gave up fishing for the more lucrative rum-running business; and in Washington, the halls of Congress itself, where politicians who had voted for Prohibition drank openly and without apology.

Last Call is capacious, meticulous, and thrillingly told. It stands as the most complete history of Prohibition ever written and confirms Daniel Okrent’s rank as a major American writer.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:13 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Okrent explores the origins, implementation, and failure of that great American delusion known as Prohibition. "Last Call" explains how Prohibition happened, what life under it was like, and what it did to the country.

(summary from another edition)

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