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 20s 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.
©2011 Daniel Okrent (P)2011 Simon & Schuster
This is history served the way one likes it, with scholarly authority and literary grace. Last Call is a fascinating portrait of an era and a very entertaining tale." (Tracy Kidder)
“Last Call is - I can't help it - a high, an upper, a delicious cocktail of a book, served with a twist or two and plenty of punch.” (Evan Thomas, Newsweek)
“A triumph. Okrent brilliantly captures the one glaring 'whoops!' in our Constitutional history. This entertaining portrait should stimulate fresh thought on the capacity and purpose of free government.” (Taylor Branch)
Yes, there is so much information to assimilate, it is definitely one I will have to reference in the future.
The other reviewers of this book (top reviewers, really?) have said that this book both contains 'too much information' and at the same time 'covers already known facts'. The only way this makes sense is if the reviewers are historians... I found this book extremely informative about exactly the minute details of history that most media on the era don't have time or patience to cover. I was expecting tales of gang wars and police clashes, but was pleasantly surprised that the book focuses more on cultural and political changes and transformations that occurred before, during, and after.Yes, the story jumps focus a LOT from figure to figure, but always it is following the overall tale of the birth, bloom, and death of prohibition. I never found any section of this book to be unnecessary to painting a down-to-earth picture of this period of history. Recommend this book to anyone interested in prohibition of any kind (past or modern), formation of political movements, the rise to power of modern corporate behemoths and political families.. As well as a good example of historical periods where countries get overtaken by fear and radicalism.Lots of interesting tidbits to chew on, for many fields of interest.
The book takes you into the rhetorical, hiistorical battles between the "wets" and "drys" with a good narration. I felt like author had his own biased and got off track at times but the narration kept it interesting. Interesting insight on a unique era of US History in lots of detail.
Not a mainstream reader.
"Last Call" on Prohibition is not as good as Ken Burn's series on the same topic. I recently watched the documentary on the dry spell and Burn's version on Prohibition is far more entertaining and informative then Daniel Okrent and this title. The information is very dry and boring. There is no human side on the topic at all. I would watch the three part documentary instead. Okrent can't draw our imagination on what it was like to not have a drink. The book lacks in history of our society during the 20's. The reader doesn't get a sense of what was it like during that time. This is a huge failure for any historian if they can't tell a story about our past.
Although this is a serious work of social and political history, it's written in such an engaging way that you can, if you like, ignore the profundity and just enjoy listening to the stories. The people who fought for Prohibition--such a diverse group, with different motivations--the people who profited from it, the way it affected daily life--there are so many character sketches and anecdotes.
I hadn't realized the extent to which the drive for Prohibition was tied up with other major social and political movements of the time, including women's suffrage (Prohibitionists were supporters because they thought that women were more likely to support them than men) and the federal income tax (Prohibitionists supported it because it answered the question of how the government was going to survive without the revenue from alcohol excise taxes).
The darker side of life in the early 20th century was also represented by the ferocious bigotry directed against Catholics and Jews, who not only opposed Prohibition, but who had an exemption carved out of the Volstead Act (the law enforcing the 18th Amendment) to allow them to use alcohol in religious services. The fact that some of that booze made its way from houses of worship to less sacred places did not help. Neither did the fact that some of the highest-profile bootleggers of the day were Catholic and Jewish (e.g., Al Capone and Meyer Lansky).
Okrent debunks some myths about the period--Prohibition was not a uniquely American folly but part of an anti-drinking movement that was also sweeping through northern Europe; Joe Kennedy was not a bootlegger; some of the improvised booze was dangerous, even deadly. But he also shows how those 14 years had some salutary legacies. Before 1919, American bars were dark dens of masculine misery and anger, where people went to get drunk. During the '20s, the speakeasies and other establishments that sprang up were cheerful, sociable places that welcomed women and often offered food, music, and dancing. In fact, one reason that many women who had originally supported Prohibition turned against it was that they saw their daughters going out and ordering drinks themselves--something that would have been unthinkable in the old days.
I thought Okrent's account of the move to repeal the 18th Amendment was a bit sketchy, but that may be because it coincided with the advent of the Great Depression, a subject much too big for the book. Or maybe it was just that I was enjoying the book so much that I didn't want it to end!
A complete history of Prohibition covering statistics, key political figures and families, loopholes of the law, and how business empires were built both legit and illegal. A look at how politics and legal systems worked during this period, mostly for the advancement of individuals and parties, not necessarily for the public they represented.
This title would be better in an abridged format for the casual listener not interested in all the stats, facts and names.
I have bought many books and I have to admit that this is one of the few that I could have done without. There was some valuable information, but much of it was a combination of information that most with a basic understanding of history already know, and detail that few would find relevant.
I am a a devotee of language and literature, basically a scholar and intellectually ecclectic reader.
This book will tell you everything you wanted to know about prohibition, plus everything you didn't want to know. Too bad a good editor didn't tell the author to cut ruthlessly! Too many details left me overwhelmed, and the writer's style is workmanlike but not memorable. More beer than champagne.
I probably will avoid Daniel Okrent in future.
The reader, like the writer, is workmanlike but not especially enthralling or seductive.
Could be a TV documentary, in fact I think there is one, but it would have to be sharply condensed and livened up.
The musical intros are hokey and predictable. The era deserves better than this.
How we drank. The influence of the Anti Saloon League.
None. I didn't like his narrative style. Too slow.
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