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Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
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Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  4,413 ratings  ·  599 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 bee

Hardcover, 480 pages
Published May 11th 2010 by Scribner (first published April 30th 2010)
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Erfurt, Germany. Summer 1998. I am on a month-long tour with my high school class. I am in a bar, about to have the first drink of my life. I am 18 years old, a stickler for the rules. But I have found a loophole. The Underage American Tourist in Europe Clause. I lift the drink to my lips. It burns something bad. I do not know what it is, because I am not an all-star in my German class, and am unable to translate the word. It does not matter. I take another sip. And then another. I turn to the g ...more
A really interesting history of the part of prohibition we usually don't hear about it. Most prohibition documentaries/histories focus on the "What happened" rather than the "How it got this way" - which is the particular province that Okrent narrates. It's full of windbags, stump speakers, racists, politicos, and marginal figures who used temperance and the adjective "dry" to secure a national stage and temporary power. Most tellingly, as Okrent ironically notes, popular history whitewashed ove ...more
Otis Chandler
This is a fascinating glimpse into American history, of which I was largely ignorant - well worth a read. I had no idea prohibition lasted 14 years! My only criticism is the author spent way too much time on the politics of prohibition - that could have been cut by half.

The bottom line of prohibition is that is was a massive failure. It singlehandedly created organized crime, cost the government lots of money in lost taxes and enforcement, and failed to stop pretty much anyone from drinking.

"In 1920 could anyone have believed that the Eighteenth Amendment, ostensibly addressing the single subject of intoxicating beverages, would set off an avalanche of change in areas as diverse as international trade, speedboat design, tourism practices, soft-drink marketing, and the English language itself? Or that it would provoke the establishment of the first nationwide criminal sydicate, the idea of home dinner parties, the deep engagement of women in political issues other than suffrage, and ...more
In the late 1920s, the leadership of the city of Philadelphia announced efforts to combat police corruption by moving police officers suspected of accepting bribes to new precincts away from their bootlegging cronies. Out of 4200 officers on the force, 3800 were transferred--only 1 cop in 10 was considered honest by the city of Philadelphia. The Coast Guard invested millions in designing faster ships; some factories doubled their profits by selling equivalent ships to bootleggers. In Williamson ...more
Bruce MacBain
When Wayne B. Wheeler died in 1927, an obituary in the Washington Post stated, “No other private citizen of the United States has left such an impress upon national history.” Wayne who? Well, Mr. Willard was for a decade the chief lobbyist for the Anti-Saloon League and, indeed, politicians quaked whenever this small, unprepossessing man entered the room.

But Wheeler is not the only prohibition-era titan to have utterly vanished from our national memory. There was Frances Willard, “immortal foun
This history of Prohibition is especially enjoyable because of the author's sense of humor, which I would call dry, except that this book is all about the battles between rascally, pro-liquor "wets" and frequently schoolmarmish "drys." In this context, I'd have to call Okrent's humor wet, which is understandable given that most modern people consider Prohibition to have been one of America's all-time worst ideas.

The movement for Prohibition made for some odd bedfellows. It came hand-in-hand with
I'm conflicted about this history of Prohibition, which starts with the 19th-century temperance movement that led to it and concludes with some interesting postscripts about several of the major characters. On the one hand, I was very intrigued by the topic going in, and the book has lots of great information, random trivia, and fascinating "untold" stories, all crammed into a non-threatening number of pages. On the other hand, I think the author tried a bit too hard to pack as much of his resea ...more
Jun 03, 2010 Shinynickel marked it as to-read
Off this awesome review:

"The story of the War on Alcohol has never needed to be told more urgently—because its grandchild, the War on Drugs, shares the same DNA. Okrent alludes to the parallel only briefly, on his final page, but it hangs over the book like old booze-fumes — and proves yet again Mark Twain's dictum: "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."


With the passage of the 18th Amendment in 1921, the dysfunctions of Prohibition began.
Required reading for anyone interested in abolishing the disastrous War on Drugs that's corrupted the American justice system (and, on a lesser note, made hypocrites of us all) for over a quarter of a century. Last Call is informative and entertaining. Even an old American history geek like me learned something new: almost entirely due to the phenomenal political skills of one man, Wayne Wheeler of the Anti-Saloon League, such wildly different groups as the Industrial Workers of the World and th ...more
Lauren Albert
Wonderful, funny, informative and surprising. Okrent shows you the connections between prohibition and the institution of the income tax, between prohibition and women's suffrage and between the end of prohibition and the income tax. He explains with abundant and interesting examples why and how prohibition failed and why drinking sometimes increased during prohibition and decreased after it was repealed. And through all this historical education, Okrent manages to be funny as when, in discussin ...more
It is somewhat rare for me to read non-fiction and even more rare to read history. Of course, I heard this author discussing his book as I drove around with NPR on, and pulled into the nearest Borders to get a copy. Time, effort and money well spent! The history of Prohibition, from earliest efforts at local option, through the 18th amendment, the era of Prohibition enforcement (or, more accurately, the lack thereof) and the Repeal movement is well researched and presented in a style that is bey ...more
Erika Nelson
One of the marks of a great book for me is if I find myself wanting to share information in it with somebody else. So riveting was this book that I wanted to share tidbits every few pages, if not more often. This book discusses the passage of prohibition, the effects of the ill-fated amendment, and the events that finally led to repeal. Through it a remarkable tale of audacity unfolds as the cause of temperance managed to win the day in a country that drank heavily. Out-sized personalities emerg ...more
Jill Hutchinson
The 18th Amendment to the American Constitution was, as the author says, one of the great "ooops" in our history. The"noble experiment" of prohibition was anything but noble and the author reveals the rise and fall of dry America in all its ugly hypocrisy. This is an all-encompassing work that was several years in the making and his attention to detail and immaculate research are impressive.
The political maneuvering and the influence of pressure groups such as the Anti-Saloon League,the Women's
Fabulously entertaining history. I'll just reproduce my favorite nicknames here:

Carrie Nation: The Famous and Original Bar Room Smasher

Agent M.T. Gonzaulles: The Lone Wolf of Texas

Agent William R. Hervey: The Kokomo Schoolmaster

Agent Samuel Kurtzman: The Plague of the North

Agent Al Wolff: Wallpaper (because when he raided a joint, he packed up everything but the wallpaper)

Agent Daisy Simpson: The Woman with a Hundred Disguises

Assistant Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt: The Prohibition P
This book ties fascinating pieces of trivia together into a coherent theme. That theme being: Intelligent people, working as a group, can be idiots.

As I read, I really tried to keep track of all the various forces that came together in a once-in-a-lifetime gathering to result in one of the lowest points of American political life: Prohibition. Some of the forces were:

The dry forces were very well organized. A lot of modern-day politics -- including one-issue voting, grass roots campaigning, and
The topic of prohibition, including the social and political conditions leading to it, is an area that today is likely not subject to more than passing interest. Prohibition came and went. Daniel Okrent here has put life into this subject, setting forth in page-turning fashion the entire subject matter, from the ever-increasing calls (as part of a politically charged coalition) for temperance that resulted in the law, to the "enforcement" of the law, to the manner in which the law was flouted, t ...more
While not quite as narratively engaging as other micro-histories I've read (David Laskin's The Children's Blizzard seems the high-water mark for this type of writing to me), Daniel Okrent's Last Call is an awfully good read, saturated with facts but giving due space to the personalities that shaped this fascinating, beguiling period in American history.

What's remarkable about Last Call is what it's not: while it would've been awful easy to dedicate dozens of pages to the likes of Lucky Luciano
As someone who likes to view himself as an intellectually honest historian and political geek, I felt obligated to read this book since I knew it would give me the insights I needed to gain a real understanding of how prohibition actually happened...I actually, had preferred blaming it on the uptight evangelical midwestern and southern protestants who were fearful of catholics and immigrants. And while those folks certainly led the way, and often, for those reason, Okrent makes clear that consti ...more
Dave Biggus
For a book pitting the drys against the wets, the moralists against the civil libertarians, this book (which started out pretty juicy) ended up being a little dry and overdone. SO much interesting history: years of women trying to pull drunk husbands out of bars (1830: 7 gallons of pure alcohol consumed per capita, which includes everyone - amazing early nation of lushes!); suffragettes lining up with Ku Klux Klan in elections; years (from 1850's) of determination culminating in hurried Congress ...more
This book had a bit of a slow start for me - I think some of the politics in the run-up to the institution of prohibition could have been a bit more engaging, but instead they seemed like some form of inside baseball, and just gave a general (but good) overview of what was going on.

Once the book got started, though, it did have a lot of great insights about life during prohibition, the way it changed the economy and the politics of it all, and it was wrapped up nicely.

Frankly, I'd be interested
Available as a two-part 10.5-hour audio download from Audible, read by the author. It is advertised on Audible as unabridged, yet the end credits say that it was “abridged for audio” by somebody-or-other. So, is it abridged or not? Just askin'.

Hour-long interview with the author available for free download or streaming here.

This is a very entertaining listen but occasionally I thought I was going to get a headache from its stridently conservative (in US political sense) interpretation of history
Less than 100 years ago, the United States changed the Constitution (the f-ing Constitution!) to prohibit "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors." (Please note the Oxford comma -- I'm a fan). Then, 14 years later we changed it back. Oops, our bad. Seriously?! What a ridiculous time in our nation's history, and since most school-aged children/teenagers/young adults don't/can't fully understand the issues, the details have largely been erased from our national consciousn ...more
Okrent, Daniel. LAST CALL: THE RISE AND FALL OF PROHIBITION. (2010). *****. The passage and ratification of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919 banned the manufacture, sale, or transportation of “intoxicating liquors” in the United States. It didn’t ban drinking, though. The Amendment went into effect on January 16, 1920, and lasted until its repeal in 1933. It brought on some strange times in America, all of which are thoroughly explored in this fascinating and well-researched a ...more
Last Call is exactly what it says on the tin: a history of Prohibition, starting with the burgeoning movement in the 19th century and following it through its peak and then inevitable decline. There's a lot of material here, well-researched and skillfully presented so its concise and easily followed by the reader. Okrent does a great job handling all of the personalities, laws, parties, movements, social aspects, cultural views, and commercial (both legal and otherwise) inspired by the 18th Amen ...more
Such a rich book on a brief but powerful event in American history. Author Okrent chronicles the various social groups and perspectives that coalesced into a political force that brought about a constitutional amendment, and then narrates the social and politicas trends that brought an end to the decision some 14 years later.

As the author summarizes in his epilogue, pg373, "In almost every respect imaginable, Prohibition was a failure. It encouraged criminality and institutionalized hypocrisy. I
Clif Hostetler
To many alive today, prohibition is best remembered as depicted in movies of Al Capone and Eliot Ness. Well, there's a lot more to it than that. There was a long history leading up to the era, and then bringing it to an end is an interesting story too.

I found the history of alcohol consumption in the U.S. to be of particular interest. See the following link to a graph showing the history of U.S. Alcohol Consumption:
LINK: U.S. Alcohol Consumption
After looking at the above graph one might wonder
This book was very interesting but also very information-heavy. I would recommend this book as one to read over a longer period of time. My usual habit is to read one book at a time but to get through that one book in matter of days. This book is just too meaty for that. When I was done I felt like I had had to write a couple of papers and do a final exam, it would have been as if I had just done a college-level course on Prohibition (with less retention, of course, because I rushed through it). ...more
Benjamin  Berman
I think for most people, myself excluded prior to reading this book, the Prohibition era was an interesting footnote in American history, an odd outlier and interesting tidbit to talk about when not discussing the standard American triumphalist approach to history. In my humble opinion, the long period of American History from the Civil War to the Second World War in general tends to get short shrift in both popular culture and standard educational courses, but that is a subject for a different ...more
Kressel Housman
If you're like me, then all you remember about Prohibition from high school can be summed up in a few short sentences: Prohibition failed. It may have decreased alcohol consumption in the country overall, but it increased crime exponentially. Morality cannot be legislated.

If that's the basic outline of Prohibition, this book fills in the details, and I do mean details. If a more comprehensive book on the subject exists, I would be very surprised. But the author is a journalist, not an academic,
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Daniel Okrent's 40-year career has encompassed nearly every form of mass media. In book publishing, he was an editor at Knopf, Viking, and Harcourt. In magazines, he founded the award-winning New England Monthly and was chief editor of the monthly Life. In newspapers, he was the first public editor of the New York Times. On television, he has appeared as an expert commentator on many network shows ...more
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“alcohol consumption fell sharply at the beginning of Prohibition, to approximately 30 percent of its pre-Prohibition level,” and by the time of Repeal had risen “to about 60–70 percent of its pre-Prohibition level.” 2 likes
“Ten thousand grateful people jammed Sunday’s enormous tabernacle to hear him announce the death of liquor and reveal the advent of an earthly paradise. “The reign of tears is over,” Sunday proclaimed. “The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile, and the children will laugh. Hell will be forever for rent.” 0 likes
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