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Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

3.86  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,603 Ratings  ·  671 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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Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
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
Five stars all the way. An entertaining, provocative, highly readable account of one of America's stranger political and social experiments--and one that has important modern day resonance and lessons.

Daniel Okrent weaves a brilliant tapestry of the many threads that brought the 18th Amendment into being. But this is not [AHEM!] a dry read. It's full of lively, often astonishing characters like the indomitable Carrie Nation who carried a hammer around, smashed up saloon after saloon and launche
The good news? Prohibition helps women get the right to vote. The bad news? The rise of “saloon economics,” racism and anti-immigration thrive, and people were poisoned by The Jake. Also, we've got some serious inaccuracies in our “Prohibition mythology,” including Malory's take on the lawfulness of Joe Kennedy's lucrative spirits-importation business, which was actually the beneficiary of a nuance in the Volstead Act (I'm sure it will come to a shock to everyone that the rich fared better than ...more
Apr 24, 2014 Daniel rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 30, 2010 Andrew rated it it was amazing
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.

Aug 10, 2016 Max rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
Born in the 1840’s the prohibitionist movement was a response to the endemic drunkenness in America. An American then consumed on average three times as much alcohol as an American today! The movement gained significant strength in the late 19th century with the formation of the WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) and the ASL (Anti-Saloon League). The ASL was politically very effective. Singularly focused it sought out any and all allies even progressives. Thus it helped pass workman’s com ...more
Jul 17, 2013 Madeline rated it really liked it
"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
Feb 08, 2015 Dwight rated it really liked it
Last Call is a great introduction to America’s experiment with alcohol prohibition and a highly superior substitute for the Hollywood education that was my prior reference point. Mr. Okrent does a great job of introducing us to the cast of characters that influenced legislation, policy and enforcement, as well as the special interest groups that played such a large role in both the rise and fall of prohibition.

Though the anecdotes regarding bootleggers and rum runners are entertaining, the forma
Jun 01, 2014 Emily rated it it was amazing
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
Bruce Macbain
Mar 10, 2013 Bruce Macbain rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 27, 2011 George rated it it was ok
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.
Jul 06, 2010 Rebecca rated it really liked it
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
Jul 06, 2010 Lauren Albert rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-american
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
May 21, 2010 randy rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 09, 2012 Erika Nelson rated it really liked it
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
Oct 29, 2014 Jill Hutchinson rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
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
Aug 09, 2011 Cari rated it really liked it
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
Clif Hostetler
Aug 09, 2010 Clif Hostetler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Benjamin  Berman
May 28, 2011 Benjamin Berman rated it really liked it
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
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
Apr 20, 2014 Jkhickel rated it really liked it
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
Apr 17, 2014 John rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 31, 2015 Patty rated it really liked it
A history about, well, what it sounds like. The more famous elements of Prohibition – the gangsters, the speakeasies, the enforcement agents – get a few mentions, but they're not the main drive of the book (not that I really wanted more topics, since the book's already over 400 pages in hardcover). Instead, it's focused on the politics of the whole matter: both how it was originally passed and then how it was quickly repealed. Which is pretty fascinating; I'm always intrigued by that weird momen ...more
Mar 28, 2014 Derek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 17, 2012 Matthew rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 15, 2011 Dave Biggus rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Dec 04, 2012 Paul rated it really liked it
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
May 10, 2012 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
More about Daniel Okrent...

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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.” 3 likes
“The iron miners who belonged to the Italian Club in the town of Virginia, Minnesota, took pains to procure more suitable grapes, dispatching a grocer named Cesare Mondavi to the San Joaquin Valley late each summer to acquire their supply. Inspired to get into the grape business himself, Mondavi soon moved his family to California, where his precocious son Robert would make his own name in the winemaking world.” 1 likes
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