on 19 August 2010
This is a gem of a book. Covering politics, social history, economics and many aspects of 'the American People' it not only provides a splendid read it is extremely entertaining. Some would argue that it's too detailed and too long but in order to get the Prohibition into the correct perspective I thought it essential to cover the period c.1910 to 1935 (prohibition lasted from 1920 - 1933). The author's research is meticulous, his style engaging and his 'balance' (between political, legal and even religious factions) amazing. Highly recommended.
on 18 August 2011
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 It detailed the reasons why Prohibition was finally repealed.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.
This book wasn't quite what I was looking for. It's very much a political and legal history of Prohibition, and I was hoping for more of a social history.
However, that said, this is an excellent read. The author's exhaustive research and mastery of his material is evident on every page, and he still finds room for interesting anecdotes and asides - which to my mind elevates this book from what could have been a somewhat dry recounting of the years 1910-1935 to something incredibly engaging. He succeeds into truly bringing into focus characters I had never before heard of, people who had an enormous impact on the Prohibition years but have somehow disappeared from history's view - like Pauline Sabin, Wayne Wheeler, Mabel Willebrandt and others.
One of the aspects I most enjoyed is the focus on the well-known alcoholic brands on today, and how they adapted and prospered throughout Prohibition - companies such as Pabst, Miller, Busch, Jack Daniels etc. Some of these companies have somewhat airbrushed their histories, so it's quite intriguing to read about their 'dirty laundry'! As is the revelation that Joseph Kennedy, JFK's father, was not a bootlegger and there is no evidence at all that he was. Even I thought he was!
"Last Call" is a comprehensive study of the phenomenon known as Prohibition. Author Daniel Okrent studies what drew it into being, the life it lived and what led to its repeal. The story of how Prohibition interplayed with so many other trends of its day and how it affected the development of our country is fascinating.
Did you ever wonder how the German-American brewing families incurred the wrath of Americans, and learned their lesson? Did you ever contemplate how the banning of liquor made the income tax necessary, and palatable? Did you ever think about the influence of women's suffrage and the timing driven by the impending redistricting after the 1920 census? What arguments did World War I give to the proponents of Prohibition? Did it ever occur to you that all amendments prior to the Eighteenth limited the actions of government whereas it extended government involvement in daily life, establishing a precedent that would follow a million courses to today? This book leads the reader through those questions and more.
This book also explains some of the changes that Prohibition brought to our corporate world, such as the rise of Seagram's from the sales made to middlemen who smuggled its products into the United States, to the explosion of Walgreens in the age of medicinal alcohol. The increased demand for sacramental wine would seem to suggest a sudden burst of religious fervor, but merely masked a sacrilegious hypocrisy.
Ultimately Prohibition would fall in a changed country, a country in which the flaunting of the law became an industry in itself. Although repeal had been deemed impossible, it came as rapidly as had the adoption. Although gone, Prohibition's influence remains unto this day. It took forty years before the average consumption of alcohol returned to its pre-Prohibition levels. Liquor remains a highly regulated and highly taxed product and government regulation of daily life has expanded to levels deemed impossible before its adoption.
Daniel Okrent has written a book that will hold the interest of any reader who is enthralled by a story that does not merely tell what happened but how and why it happened. I am glad that I listened to this book and have a much better understanding of the Prohibition movement and Twentieth Century American history than I did before I encountered it.
on 4 March 2012
This is beautifully written, page-turning history. The most enthralling bits of the book are the politics of prohibition: how something so improbable became possible and how it was then repealed against all the odds. The anti-drink forces reasoned that if they could get a constitutional amendment on prohibition through before the electoral reapportionment due in 1920, it would be almost impossible to repeal. In the cold light of the Great Depression, the impossible happened very fast. The author focuses more on this than on the how gangsters fought with one another to get rich from the ban on drnk.
Okrent never draws a parallel with the war on drugs but it is almost impossible not to draw parallels of your own from every chapter.
This is history written so well that you may, like me, stay up reading it until the early hours and feel sorry when you have finished it.
on 29 November 2013
This book narrates the religious and political insanity that initiated prohibition which encompassed a nation during the 1920s and early 1930s and the resultant social chaos which it produced.
It is a very potent example of what happens to a society when politics and religion combine to enforce their morals on the populace.
Okrent gives a detailed description of the origins and progress of what ultimately became the 18th amendment to the constitution detailing the characters and pressure groups involved.
This is a cautionary tale wherein those who believe themselves to represent a moral majority are proven to be catastrophically wrong however the book also contains much humour, culminating a good read.