Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America

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Arcade Publishing, 1996 - History - 262 pages
On the stroke of midnight on January 16, 1920, America went dry. For the next thirteen years the 18th Amendment to the Constitution would specifically deny every citizen the right to buy or sell alcoholic drink. Those thirteen years were to change America forever: instead of regulating social behavior and eliminating the scourge of "the Devil's brew," Prohibition incited Americans to bend or break the law by virtually any means possible.
In these pages, Edward Behr traces the rise of the Temperance movement from Colonial times onward. Indeed, pioneer America was a free-wheeling, hard-drinking country. Whiskey was so plentiful it was often used for legal - and illegal - tender. Throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century and into the early years of the twentieth, various crusading forces, some well-meaning, some hypocritical, were increasingly demanding an end to intemperance and the abolition of all alcoholic beverages. Between 1920 and 1933, they succeeded.
Here is the full, rollicking story of those thirteen years, taking us back to the Jazz Age and its flappers, to the "beautiful and the damned" who drank their lives away in speakeasies; to the Saint Valentine's Day massacre, and to the bootleggers, rumrunners, and high-living gangsters who flagrantly and defiantly flouted the law; to a lady from a Kansas City knitting circle who single-handedly axed a saloon to splinters; to teetotaler Henry Ford's Detroit, where Ford had homes searched to make sure his workers were dry. And, for the first time, Prohibition reveals the full story of George Remus, lawyer turned kingpin of the bootleggers, whose influence reached into the highest echelons of government.

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Prohibition: thirteen years that changed America

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A&E, the Arts and Entertainment cable television channel, intends to produce a three-part miniseries based on this book, an interesting and readable history of the prohibition era. A journalist by ... Read full review

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I have yet to read the entire book, but if Chapter 13, "Chicago," is any indication of his methodology, as a historian, I cannot recommend it. He refers to the television series "The Untouchables" as being a paean to the FBI and overseen and censored by J. Edgar Hoover. I would like for Behr to have cited his sources at this point.
"The Untouchables" had nothing to do with the FBI. The men referred to by that sobriquet, the team of investigators headed by Eliot Ness, operated under the Treasury Department, as part of the Prohibition Bureau. The only other government agency referred to in the series is the Internal Revenue Bureau (as it was known in the 1930s), which built the income-tax evasion case against Al Capone. It would have helped, I think, if Behr had actually watched the series before referring to it to bolster his argument. His ignorance of the series damages his argument.
I doubt seriously that J. Edgar Hoover had input, though this is a point that may bear researching. It seems extremely unlikely, however, since the government agencies portrayed in the episodes were the Treasury Department's sub-agencies, the Prohibition Bureau and the Internal Revenue Bureau. The FBI, which was then and is now a bureau of the Justice Department, was not portrayed in the series.
Behr also charges that the show did not reflect how ruthless the gangsters portrayed in its episodes actually were because, for one thing, never was there any mention of corrupt public officials. On the contrary, that was one of the pervasive plot elements of the series. Time and again in the episodes, good public officials were assassinated to make room for corruption to take hold, or officials already in place were shown to be "on the pad" to some mobster.
Behr rightly states that the series had nothing to do with reality. It was a fictionalization, a series of "film noir" stories told to entertain, and even thrill, its audience. It was a series of morality plays. I also agree with Behr that the episodes told stark stories of good versus evil. That is the nature of a morality play: good is good and evil is evil, with no equivocation. Whether or not this floats one's boat is for each to decide.
After I have read the entire book, I will expand this review.




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