Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

In This Review

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
By Daniel Okrent
Scribner, 2010
480 pp. $30.00
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This well-researched and thoughtful book casts new light on Prohibition, one of the oddest, most important, and least understood American historical developments in the twentieth century. Often dismissed as an amusing but unimportant episode, the great social experiment of Prohibition was in reality the culmination of one of the most influential social movements in the history of the United States. Okrent makes a strong case that the movement played a much greater role in progressive politics than is generally thought. Both the 16th and the 19th Amendments to the Constitution, he argues, were passed principally because it was believed that only an income tax could make up for the revenue dip if governments lost the revenue from excise taxes on alcohol. And women’s suffrage was needed to ensure the passage of the Prohibition Amendment. Along the way, this extraordinary book demonstrates the sheer scale of bootlegging. (The problems with today’s drug laws pale by comparison.) Virtually everyone in the United States seems to have been involved in bootlegging in some way, with the surprising exception of Joseph Kennedy. Last Call belongs on the shelves of every serious student of the United States in the twentieth century.