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Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (Abridged)by Daniel Okrent
Synopses & 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.
"In narrating his social and political chronicle of the 18th Amendment, Okrent competently brings a divergent host of characters--both 'wet' and 'dry'--to life including Mabel Walker Willebrandt, a trailblazing female attorney, law enforcement official, and earnest reformer who found herself surrounded by considerably less zealous colleagues in the Treasury Department, and Canadian distiller Sam Bronfman, who transformed his renegade operations into the Seagram's beverage empire. Okrent takes pains not to fall into familiar Hollywood caricatures in portraying such well-known icons of the era as Al Capone and Joseph P. Kennedy. In his reading, Okrent turns down the familiar noise of the flappers and machine-gun fire--without stinting on color--for a more nuts and bolts perspective. A Simon & Schuster hardcover (Reviews, Jan. 11). (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
Last Call is a narrative history of Prohibition. It explains how Prohibition happened, what life under it was like, and what it did to the country.
Americas obsession with its own history has resulted in innumerable bestsellers. Like baseball and the Civil War, Prohibition is one of the grand American topics, and now it is the subject of Daniel Okrents masterful, prize-worthy tour de force.
Last Call is a narrative history of one of the most puzzling and most exciting eras in American history, the years 1920 to 1933, when the Constitution was amended to restrict human social behavior. Beginning with the liquor-soaked country that the U.S. was in the nineteenth century, Last Call explains three things: How Prohibition happened, what life under Prohibition was like, and what it did to the country. Last Call, peopled with vivid characters of an astonishing variety (Susan B. Anthony and Billy Sunday, William Jennings Bryan and Sam Bronfman, Pierre du Pont and H.L. Mencken, Meyer Lansky and Clarence Darrow) and jammed with stories from nearly all parts of the country, reveals this strange chapter in our history as never before.
About the Author
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.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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