Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

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Simon and Schuster, May 11, 2010 - History - 480 pages
32 Reviews
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 twenties 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.
 

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User Review  - csweder - LibraryThing

This book was way more interesting than I first thought it would be when I bought it. Although it is about one of my favorite subjects, I feared that it would be drab and boring recollection of facts ... Read full review

Great price!

User Review  - jesjev - Overstock.com

bought this for my love he is always reading price was great! Read full review

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Contents

Contents Prologue January 16 1920
1
Part
5
thunderous Drums and Protestant nuns
7
the rising of liquid bread
24
the Most remarkable Movement
35
open Fire on the enemy
53
triumphant Failure
67
DryDrys WetDrys and hyphens
83
Escaped on Payment of Money
247
Crime Pays
267
The Phony Referendum
289
Part IV
311
The Hummingbird That Went to Mars
329
35
335
Afterlives and the Missing Man
355
Epilogue
373

From Magna Carta to Volstead
96
Part II
115
starting line
117
A Fabulous sweepstakes
128
leaks in the Dotted line
146
the Great Whiskey
159
blessed be the Fruit of the Vine
174
the Alcohol that Got Away
193
the Way We Drank
205
24
210
Open Wounds
227
The Constitution of the United States
381
53
404
67
405
96
406
117
408
128
410
146
412
159
413
193
414
205
418
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About the author (2010)

Daniel Okrent was the first public editor of The New York Times, editor-at-large of Time, Inc., and managing editor of Life magazine. He worked in book publishing as an editor at Knopf and Viking, and was editor-in-chief of general books at Harcourt Brace. He was also a featured commentator on Ken Burns’s PBS series, Baseball, and is author of four books, one of which, Great Fortune, was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in history. Okrent was also a fellow at the Shorenstein Center at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, where he remains an Associate. He lives in Manhattan and on Cape Cod with his wife, poet Rebecca Okrent. They have two children.

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