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Last Call

The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
Narrated by: Richard Poe
Length: 17 hrs and 48 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (299 ratings)

Regular price: $34.95

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Publisher's Summary

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

Critic Reviews

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)

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Very Thorough Historical Review

Would you listen to Last Call again? Why?

Yes, there is so much information to assimilate, it is definitely one I will have to reference in the future.

Any additional comments?

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.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Ari
  • New York, NY, United States
  • 05-22-12

Interesting insight on a unique era of US History

Any additional comments?

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Insightful history; Spectacular narration

A sweeping account of the historical, political, social, and religious forces that produced prohibition and then served to subvert it and then to destroy it. The author's bias in favor of consuming alcohol appears throughout the book, but he labors to give a reasonably fair depiction of those who led the drive for the 18th amendment to the Constitution. He has a harder time keeping the lid on his contempt for religious figures like Billy Sunday and Bob Jones and their stern denunciations of the liquor trade. As one who attended the university that Bob Jones founded in 1927, I found the author's attitude and efforts to mask his contempt amusing, but I also found that he was willing to concede that, whatever prohibition's alleged failures, it did succeed in reducing per capita consumption of beverage alcohol for four decades after prohibition's repeal. The historical ironies are striking, as that 19th century feminism as embodied in the women's suffrage movement was a major factor in the drive to pass prohibition while the adoption of prohibition so changed the feminist movement that it became a major factor in the drive for repeal. As always, Richard Poe's narration is easy on the ears and exudes the competence that such a book demands. This book greatly expanded my understanding of prohibition as a movement, and I recommend it highly.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Anne
  • Gaithersburg, MD, United States
  • 11-28-13

Entertaining Look at Serious History

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!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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slow at points

Sheds a new light on all the romanticized Hollywood portrayals of the Prohibition era and provides a valuable perspective on what really happened during an important chapter of our nation's history.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Very informative, peculiar alliances

I genuinely, and surprisingly, quite liked this book, after it had been languishing in my wish list for several months. The stories of all the disparate groups for and against prohibition, the wets and the drys, and the peculiar alliances that were formed were very enlightening and informative. Several famous figures weave their way into the story, often not as one might expect, as they align themselves along philosophical or constitutional beliefs. Along the way, motivations of women's suffrage, isolationism, xenophobia, and implications for previous amendments, most notably the 4th, 13th, and 14th, get carried into the cauldron of prohibition and anti-prohibition rhetoric. The book was very entertaining for most of its run, though it goes a bit dry, so to speak, when it deals with strict governmental policy during the time of prohibition. It's on its game more when sharing the stories, the antics, and the hypocrisy, of the advocates, pro and con.

The only real wobble is near the end. At times during the text, the author starts to edge toward sounding like modern pundits who write derisively about political rivals, though to be fair, without getting thoroughly political. But in a chapter presumably meant to dispel common myths of the era, he gives a short account of Al Capone, but then bizarrely gives a vigorous defense of Joe Kennedy, stating that his alleged bootlegging was completely legal. (And by legal, he means skirting the law, like nearly everyone else did.) It really didn't fit with the tenor of the overall book, which, as mentioned earlier, was quite good.

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Great story!

Loved this book. Fascinating account into history. Loved learning the names and stories of the characters behind both the rise and fall of prohibition. And, listening to this in 2018, I’m reminded of the phrase “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

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Excellent and Provocative History

This is a very interesting history of the Prohibition era. There are many parallels to today's drug wars and abortion fights, with its moral absolutists, corrupt opportunists, and hypocritical politicians. In that sense, perhaps it is somewhat consoling to know that America has been in the grip of idiocies and has survived.

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anecdote

I enjoyed the premise and the stories but it felt there were too many anecdotes that made the story sometimes hard to follow somebody names places people things

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Very Informative

Would you listen to Last Call again? Why?

I've listened to the book several times over. It's a great historical book and each time I listened, I learned something new about the prohibition era.