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Bookmarks Issue: 
47-July-Aug-2010
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A-Last Call.epsThe first public editor of the New York Times, Daniel Okrent has also served as an editor for Time, Life, and Esquire. He has written five books, including Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center (2003), which was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize.

The Topic: "In almost every respect imaginable," argues Okrent, "Prohibition was a failure." Rather than curbing the nation's passion for a pint, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which in 1920 outlawed "the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors" in the United States, fueled the growth of organized crime, corrupted government officials, and turned average, law-abiding citizens into felons. Okrent traces this social experiment from its humble beginnings in the 19th-century Protestant temperance movement to the Anti-Saloon League's ambitious campaign to replace "wet" congressmen with their "dry" opponents in the 1916 elections. By the onset of the Great Depression, however, America needed a stiff drink, and Franklin D. Roosevelt made good on his campaign promise to repeal the amendment in 1933.
Scribner. 468 pages. $30. ISBN: 9780743277020

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"Last Call is a potentially, um, dry story, but Okrent is a born storyteller. In his hands, the prodigiously researched narrative, rife with tales of corruption, adventure, and backstabbing, flies like fiction." Tina Jordan

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Last Call, Daniel Okrent's remarkable new history of Prohibition, is packed with fascinating anecdotes from this flirtation with government-mandated sobriety. ... Prohibition may have been a failure. But its story--as recounted by Okrent in Last Call--is popular history at its best." Alexander Nazaryan

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"In his well-documented, anecdote-rich book, Daniel Okrent examines the awful mess made the last time a determined minority used our most powerful document to paternalistically limit the freedom of their fellow citizens. ... Okrent, a journalist-scholar with a novelistic sense of narrative, also goes through Prohibition's influence on language, literature, the media, the judiciary system and the Congress, which violated the Constitution by refusing to reapportion itself after the 1920 Census." Ariel Gonzalez

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"[Okrent] does a terrific job of showing the hangover effects of Prohibition. ... [His] sometimes-snarky tone can be a distraction, but his dismissiveness is understandable, considering the political, legal and criminal stupidity that marked the era." Chris Foran

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Though much has been written about Prohibition ... Okrent offers a remarkably original account, showing how its proponents combined the nativist fears of many Americans with legitimate concerns about the evils of alcohol to mold a movement powerful enough to amend the United States Constitution. ... There have been many studies that follow the rapid growth of the temperance movement in this era--the colorful saloon-busting of Carry Nation, the tent-revival magnetism of Billy Sunday--but none can match the precision of Okrent's account." David Oshinsky

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Okrent wisely expends much effort in carefully gathering the many threads of American thinking, beginning in the late 19th century, that eventually made the preposterous idea of outlawing alcohol seem like a thoroughly reasonable aim. He also provides evocative sketches of the men and women--on both sides of the decades-long, impassioned debate--who were once household names but are now forgotten." Russ Smith

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"A researcher with insatiable thirst for fascinating detail, he seems quite unable to leave out details that bedevil the reader. And because Prohibition is a legislative history, this tale turns a bit wonkish at times. Yet, the same overdose of details, the endless anecdotes and insights make this book, shall we say, intoxicating for those who imbibe history." Don Oldenburg

Critical Summary

Okrent, who has rescued an important, relevant, and colorful chapter of American history, explores Americans' relationship with the bottle dating back to the colonial era and analyzes the long-term effects of Prohibition on everything--from the rise of the Mafia and the Ku Klux Klan to language, art, and literature. Fast-paced and fascinating, his narrative assembles a wide collection of comical stories and outrageous personalities, such as the hatchet-wielding Carrie Nation. He explodes clich├ęs and bypasses widely known tales of bootlegging and bathtub gin in favor of more unfamiliar accounts. Critics praised Okrent's elegant writing and careful research--even in all its details--and agreed with the New York Times Book Review that this remarkably fresh take on a forgotten era is "a narrative delight."