Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City

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Harvard University Press, 2008 - History - 351 pages

In 1919, the United States embarked on the country's boldest attempt at moral and social reform: Prohibition. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution prohibited the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol around the country. This "noble experiment," as President Hoover called it, was intended to usher in a healthier, more moral, and more efficient society. Nowhere was such reform needed more, proponents argued, than in New York City--and nowhere did Prohibition fail more spectacularly. Dry Manhattan is the first major work on Prohibition in nearly a quarter century, and the only full history of Prohibition in the era's most vibrant city.

Though New Yorkers were cautiously optimistic at first, Prohibition quickly degenerated into a deeply felt clash of cultures that utterly transformed life in the city. Impossible to enforce, the ban created vibrant new markets for illegal alcohol, spawned corruption and crime, fostered an exhilarating culture of speakeasies and nightclubs, and exposed the nation's deep prejudices. Writ large, the conflict over Prohibition, Michael Lerner demonstrates, was about much more than the freedom to drink. It was a battle between competing visions of the United States, pitting wets against drys, immigrants against old stock Americans, Catholics and Jews against Protestants, and proponents of personal liberty against advocates of societal reform.

In his evocative history, Lerner reveals Prohibition to be the defining issue of the era, the first major "culture war" of the twentieth century, and a harbinger of the social and moral debates that divide America even today.


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - nancyhart - LibraryThing

Lerner's book is extremely well-researched and paints a vivid picture of "nightclub New York", early 20th century politics and society,and Americans' desire for freedom from excess government. The ... Read full review

DRY MANHATTAN: Prohibition in New York City

User Review  - Kirkus

Drys vs. wets in Jazz-Age Gotham. Guess who wins.The clear, focused text provides ample evidence of this first-time author's wide research and deep familiarity with the relevant sources. Lerner (Assoc ... Read full review


1 The Dry Crusade
2 A New Era?
3 A Hopeless and Thankless Task
4 The Brewers of Bigotry
5 The Itch to Try New Things
6 Vote as You Drink
7 I Represent the Women of America
9 Al Smith the Wet Hope of the Nation
10 The End of the Party
11 A Surging Wet Tide
12 The Wet Convention and the New Deal

8 Hootch Joints in Harlem

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About the author (2008)

Michael A. Lerner is Associate Dean of Studies at Bard High School Early College in New York City.

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