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Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  7,844 ratings  ·  835 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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Average rating 3.88  · 
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 ·  7,844 ratings  ·  835 reviews

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Jun 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
“How did it happen? How did a freedom-loving people decide to give up a private right that had been freely exercised by millions upon millions since the first European colonists arrived in the New World? How did they condemn to extinction what was, at the very moment of its death, the fifth-largest industry in the nation? How did they append to their most sacred document 112 words that knew only one precedent in American history? With that single previous exception, the original Constitution and ...more
J.L.   Sutton
Dec 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
The best part of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition is Daniel Okrent’s account of the forces which allied with the temperance movement (notably the Ku Klux Klan, proponents of women’s suffrage and evangelical Christians) to ratify the 18th Amendment (Prohibition). These groups don’t necessarily seem like natural allies, but in the context of this patriotic campaign to outlaw the sale of alcohol, they somehow found common interest. They also found a common enemy in the ‘lawless hordes’ o ...more
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: june-2018
4.5 Stars

The 18th Amendment also known as The Volstead Act tried to do something that politicians have been trying to do since the founding of the nation. It tried to legislate morality. Its a fact that before Prohibition Americans drank a lot and new Americans drank even more than most, but the 18th Amendment sought to punish everyone for the personal failings of some and in the process made things worse.

Here's a small list of things(both good and bad)that Prohibition gave us: Organized Crime,
Nov 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, classics
In almost every respect imaginable, Prohibition was a failure. It encouraged criminality and institutionalized hypocrisy. It deprived the government of revenue, stripped the gears of the political system, and imposed profound limitations on individual rights. It fostered a culture of bribery, blackmail and official corruption. It also maimed and murdered, its excesses apparent in deaths by poison, by the brutality of ill-trained, improperly supervised enforcement officers, and by unfortunate pro
Aug 04, 2016 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
Stefania Dzhanamova
May 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1920s
The Last Call is a brilliant history of the disastrous 18th amendment to the US Constitution.

In almost every imaginable aspect, the Prohibition was a failure, a big ooops as Daniel Okrent called it in his book. It deprived the government of revenue and limited individual rights. It was responsible for the making of organized crime in the country. It fostered bribery, hypocrisy, and official corruption. With its poisonous, bootleg alcohol, it murdered and injured thousands.

In his work, Danile O
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
Olive Fellows (abookolive)
See my (drunk) review on Booktube. ...more
Clif Hostetler
Aug 02, 2010 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
Jill Hutchinson
Aug 20, 2011 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
Oct 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Before Prohibition, the nation consumed three times the quantity of alcohol per capita than it does today. Youza! And while the Temperance movement was a powerful force to help ratify the 18th Amendment, the real momentum came from populist passions that were anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, and anti-Semitic.

The 18th Amendment unleashed powerful criminal elements to circumvent the law. The wettest city was Detroit, strategically located across the river from Canada. The city’s notorious Purple Gan
Jul 14, 2010 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
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 19, 2014 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
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.

Oleksandr Zholud
Sep 22, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a non-fic about the Prohibition in the USA, which also covers time both before and after that period. I read it as a part of monthly reading for September 2022 at Non Fiction Book Club group.

When one thinks about the prohibition, at least if they haven’t studied it before, there is a number of well-known stuff: speakeasies, bootleggers, Al Capone. This book mentions them all, but its focus is elsewhere and this makes the book interesting and educational.

First of all, it starts long befor
Lauren Stoolfire
Mar 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
If you're at all interested in Prohibition and 1920's America, Last Call is a must read. It's fascinating to know all that it gave rise to further down the line, as well as its connections to women's suffrage. ...more
Jul 17, 2013 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
Rebecca Schmitz
Jul 03, 2010 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
Bruce MacBain
Jul 01, 2010 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
Christopher Saunders
Feb 25, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Daniel Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition provides a spiffy recounting of the period between 1919 and 1933 when alcohol was illegal, in one of America’s stranger and less-successful social experience. Okrent (The Guarded Gate) chronicles the rise of the Prohibition movement, an odd consortium of groups with seemingly clashing agendas: Christian fundamentalists and progressive reformers; suffragettes and Klansmen; activists bemoaning alcohol’s effect on poor families and anti-im ...more
Erik Graff
Aug 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This amusing and informative history was written around the same time Ken Burns was making his documentary on the subject. It is not, however, wed to Burns' exposition and, of course, like most books, covers much more material--and that in an engaging manner.

It appears that the Prohibition Amendment to the Constitution was predicated upon several factors: (1) real concern about alcohol and alcoholism, (2) votes for women--on the presumption that they'd disproportionately support the law, (3) ra
Apr 10, 2022 rated it liked it
Prohibition is often remembered as a joke, a foolish, puritanical attempt to keep Americans from drinking liquor. Some also credit the "Noble Experiment" with giving organized crime a foothold in American society it once could only have dreamed of. Al Capone could not have become so famous without speakeasies either. Okrent wants to develop a more complete understanding of Prohibition and all the fascinating people and events from that era. His research is voluminous and well-organized; he bring ...more
Jan 16, 2015 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
Lauren Albert
Jul 03, 2010 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
Frank Theising
Feb 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
At a social function for work last month, I bumped into a retired Anheuser-Busch distributer. We struck up a conversation and when he found out my family hailed from Clinton County, IL he regaled me with stories about how he used to fulfill his monthly sales quota in a single week from that county alone. All the German-Americans that settled the area apparently really loved their beer. Whenever we visited my grandparents there in the summer, it was not uncommon for my grandfather to be nursing a ...more
May 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
No doubt, Okrent's book is one of the more interesting titles of the last decade. This book was the basis for the Ken Burns documentary about Prohibition as well as a major resource for Bill Bryson in One Summer: America 1927.

It is interesting to watch the rise of Prohibition and how it was linked to women's suffrage. In both cases, they were large minorities fixated on one issue, and they found it beneficial to team up.

How that ball gets rolling is one of the more interesting stories of the boo
Dawn Michelle
Great. Googly. Moogly.

There is so much to unpack here that I do not even know where to start. What an amazing book. I knew about Prohibition of course, but I didn't REALLY know about Prohibition. I certainly do now. And what a story!! Some of the things people did to make "gin" [and not always in a bathtub either] is simply horrifying. I kept sending texts to my friend saying "I don't think suchandsuch is a good idea to drink" over and over. And the people that were involved in bootlegging tha
Feb 08, 2020 marked it as did-not-finish
Made it 35% of the way through this 17 hr audiobook. And I am putting it down. No rating. I have other books waiting for me which I’m more excited to read.

It had such potential. I wanted a captivating story about the mafia and corruption and the new inventions and stats on how widespread the bootlegging became. But the author, like many historians, got bogged down in detail. New people with random trivia facts were introduced almost every other paragraph. There wasn’t one coherent story centered
May 20, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
We probably all know a little about Prohibition - its beginning and end, especially - plus what a big mistake it was and how it was flaunted by, well, nearly everyone. Oh, and the gangsters in Chicago and elsewhere. Daniel Okrent covers all of that in this book but dives much deeper in exploring the history that led to it, the sometimes-unlikely collaborations, the extreme enforcement efforts, the many exceptions to the law that are not commonly known and so much more.

Some of today's big wine pr
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Non Fiction Book ...: September / October 2022 BOTM - Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent 12 22 2 hours, 30 min ago  
The History Book ...: LAST CALL - 11-15-14 - 12-15-14 107 138 Jan 20, 2015 07:34AM  
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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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Heads up, history nerds!   Historical fiction remains one of the busiest and most popular genres in the book business. It can be tricky just to...
15 likes · 2 comments
“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.” 5 likes
“With that single previous exception, the original Constitution and its first seventeen amendments limited the activities of government, not of citizens. Now there were two exceptions: you couldn’t own slaves, and you couldn’t buy alcohol.” 2 likes
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