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.
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
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.
Interesting insight on a unique era of US History
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.
- Ari "NYC"