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Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition Paperback – May 31, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 287 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Daniel Okrent has proven to be one of our most interesting and eclectic writers of nonfiction over the past 25 years, producing books about the history of Rockefeller Center and New England, baseball, and his experience as the first public editor for the New York Times. Now he has taken on a more formidable subject: the origins, implementation, and failure of that great American delusion known as Prohibition. The result may not be as scintillating as the perfect gin gimlet, but it comes mighty close, an assiduously researched, well-written, and continually eye-opening work on what has actually been a neglected subject.There has been, of course, quite a lot of writing that has touched on the 14 years, 1919–1933, when the United States tried to legislate drinking out of existence, but the great bulk of it has been as background to one mobster tale or another. Okrent covers the gangland explosion that Prohibition triggered—and rightly deromanticizes it—but he has a wider agenda that addresses the entire effect enforced temperance had on our social, political, and legal conventions. Above all, Okrent explores the politics of Prohibition; how the 18th Amendment, banning the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating beverages, was pushed through after one of the most sustained and brilliant pressure-group campaigns in our history; how the fight over booze served as a surrogate for many of the deeper social and ethnic antagonisms dividing the country, and how it all collapsed, almost overnight, essentially nullified by the people.Okrent occasionally stumbles in this story, bogging down here and there in some of the backroom intricacies of the politics, and misconstruing an address by Warren Harding on race as one of the boldest speeches ever delivered by an American president (it was more nearly the opposite). But overall he provides a fascinating look at a fantastically complex battle that was fought out over decades—no easy feat. Among other delights, Okrent passes along any number of amusing tidbits about how Americans coped without alcohol, such as sending away for the Vino Sano Grape Brick, a block of dehydrated grape juice, complete with stems, skins, and pulp and instructions warning buyers not to add yeast or sugar, or leave it in a dark place, or let it sit too long, lest it become wine. He unearths many sadly forgotten characters from the war over drink—and readers will be surprised to learn how that fight cut across today's ideological lines. Progressives and suffragists made common cause with the Ku Klux Klan—which in turn supported a woman's right to vote—to pass Prohibition. Champions of the people, such as the liberal Democrat Al Smith, fought side-by-side with conservative plutocrats like Pierre du Pont for its repeal.In the end, as Okrent makes clear, Prohibition did make a dent in American drinking—at the cost of hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries from bad bootleg alcohol; the making of organized crime in this country; and a corrosive soaking in hypocrisy. A valuable lesson, for anyone willing to hear it.Kevin Baker is the coauthor, most recently, of Luna Park, a graphic novel published last month by DC Comics.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Okrent, who has rescued an important, relevant, and colorful chapter of American history, explores Americans' relationship with the bottle dating back to the colonial era and analyzes the long-term effects of Prohibition on everything--from the rise of the Mafia and the Ku Klux Klan to language, art, and literature. Fast-paced and fascinating, his narrative assembles a wide collection of comical stories and outrageous personalities, such as the hatchet-wielding Carrie Nation. He explodes clichés and bypasses widely known tales of bootlegging and bathtub gin in favor of more unfamiliar accounts. Critics praised Okrent's elegant writing and careful research--even in all its details--and agreed with the New York Times Book Review that this remarkably fresh take on a forgotten era is "a narrative delight." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1 edition (May 31, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074327704X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743277044
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.4 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (287 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #45,949 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By G.I Gurdjieff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is an all-encompassing view of what lead up to the creation of the 18th ammendment(and its earliest roots which went back pretty far in american history) and its eventual downfall and lightening fast repeal.
I chose this book as a Vine selection because it sounded as though it went beyond the common perception of bathtub gin, speakeasies, and G-men in a Warner Bros. movie smashing trucks full of beer kegs. In fact, it did go way beyond that. Daniel Okrent's book is a lively source of all things Prohibition. He provides a rather in-depth history of how special interest groups such as the KKK and church groups and people such as Billy Sunday, Wayne Wheeler and Carrie Nation banded together to popularize the idea of prohibition and how the concept picked up steam politically via lobbying to enforce a law nationally that the public at large really didn't support. The book discusses the key players nationally who supported and also opposed this bill and provided background material/biographies of these people. The implementation of the bill as well as the go-arounds such as bootleg booze and speakeasies are discussed, and the reader is supplied with information regarding how this stuff (some of which proving quite toxic) was made. Also discussed is the general public disatisfaction with the bill and the reasons for its rapid decline/downfall in depression-era America.
One of the things I particularly liked (and possibly even loved) were some of the unexpected little gems such as the way alcoholic beverages were marketed to a pre-prohibition public, the background information on some of the beer barons and distillers and how they rode out the 'dry' spell. Of particular interest was the way in which the ordinary lives of the american people were changed.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book masquerades as a book full of great stories and wonderful personalities - some well known, some utterly new - told with effortless wit at a pace that makes you keep breaking promises to yourself: "I'll read just ONE more chapter, before ...." {you fill in the blank: going to bed, making love on your wedding night, speaking before the UN General Assembly, surrendering to serve your term at Allentown).
But the mean thing about this book is that it also tells the whole story of prohibition, weaving together its emergence from various social, ethnic, political and religious roots, showing its connection to the great themes of the twentieth century, how prohibition was advanced by an alliance between what we would describe today as doctrinaire progressives, left-wing feminists and the religious right, and furnishing a social history of the West in the 19th, 20th and no doubt 21st centuries which more profoundly explains where we are and how we got here than many a more pretentious tome. It's just marvelous and will keep you thinking about it long after you've finally made your speech, formalized your wedding, served your time.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Prohibition was the best of intentions; it was the worst of results. A burning passion to cure the world of intoxication begat a wildfire of unintended consequences that permanently changed the American political landscape like no event since the civil war. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution--the first to curtail rather than to protect liberty--was imposed in a bipartisan political landslide of moral fervor led by fiery evangelicals bent on saving Americans from Demon Rum: an idea that had gathered 60 years of steam & brimstone, and whose time had finally come. Prohibition also created powerful new constituencies that profited from its continuance. Even its detractors became hopelessly resigned to its permanence.

It was not a revolution made led by dull people. The morally excited are, for all their dryness (pun intended), more animated, more colorful than the skeptical or the wise. Here the dramatis personnae of this tragicomedy seem more than merely memorable, they come to life on the page. But even in the limelight of the author's wit, prohibitionists don't seem caricatured, uneducated or stupid. (How could they have known? The lessons of hindsight were waiting offstage.) The complex tale of their successful constitutional coup is chronicled here in far more complex depth and detail than you might expect, yet the narrative flows quickly among the actors and events without losing momentum. The avalanche of startling facts and grotesque statistics are leavened with enough really good writing to yield laugh-out-loud descriptions, outrageous quotes and incisive commentary. Along with familiar folks like Rev. Billy Sunday, Carrie Nation, Andrew Volstead, et.al.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Daniel Okrent has written an entertaining and thorough history of Prohibition, starting with the political and social organizations of the late 19th century whose decades of lobbying and gradually refined lobbying techniques resulted in the passing of the 18th Amendment. He then discusses how citizens (nearly universally) ignored the law, how bootleggers produced alcohol and brought it to market, how the government responded, and how very rapidly it came to an end once the Great Depression started.

Though this time period is often featured in fiction and in movies, I found myself repeatedly surprised at how little of this story I already knew. The mutual dependence of the Prohibition movement and Women's suffrage, for example, or the effective nullification of Prohibition by the very Congress that had passed it, as they never allocated money for enforcement. Okrent also has a good sense for amusing anecdote, especially about the larger-than-life characters who violated the law once it was in place (including many members of Congress and of every presidential administration from 1919 to 1933).

The most interesting material in the book, I think, is the discussion of the various *legal* ways that alcohol was produced in the United States or shipped here under prohibition. Demand for drink was so strong that even small loopholes in the law were torn open. "Medicinal" alcohol, "sacramental" wine, even home brewing kits became massive industries.

Between the engaging writing and the Ken Burns documentary to come, it is inevitable that this book will be widely read. As the story of Prohibition sheds light on modern pressure group politics, drug legalization, and fluidity of political alliances, America will be better for having read it.
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