The Rise of Prohibition
In January, 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution became operative. Since that time and till December, 1933 Americans were forbidden to produce, hold or deal out alcoholic beverages. However, Daniel Okrent demonstrates this time in his social work, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, as the culmination of decades of social and political activism by a broad communion of anti-alcoholic citizens. What is more, there is still the echo of these effects in nowadays, both law and social custom, and it is a negative side of disturbing government policy.
One may ask: How did this happen and why would Americans restrain their precious right to drink? Okrent gives the sobering answers in his book. The variant of Prohibition the author proposed is not a restriction in its usual way. Okrent makes it into the war made by small-town white Protestants. They felt beleaguered by the forces of change. There were a lot of authors, who described Prohibition, but Okrent proposes an amazingly unique story. This tale shows the way how its proponents united the fears of lots of Americans with legitimate concerns about the immorality of alcohol, to form a movement powerful enough to make corrections to the United States Constitution.
Okrent describes the Prohibition era in a narrative and delightful way. He gives a list of the wettest cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco. However, the “leader” is Detroit, the corrupt metropolis, also known as “the city on a still”. Illegal alcohol business employed over 50000 people in this city. Surely, politicians or police officers were not involved. That seems very similar to nowadays business. That is why Okrent defies the chance to bond Prohibition to the current political situation. However, the comparison is rather persuasive.
The book is full of different stories, which, in their turn, tell about different cities, towns, and even villages. Some of these cities are named and listed; some are not. Okrent has in his writing both wit and historical perspicacity. He shows the revelation of a confluence of diverse forces through the Prohibition: women’s suffrage movement gains more political power; native-stock Protestants fear they have lost control over the immigrants of large cities; World War I stocked the anti-German attitudes, and a great range of other factors, which both affect the Prohibition and are affected by it.
Okrent avoids political minutiae in his book. At the same time, he pays attention to the illumination of personalities. These factors make story readable. The author compares different facts, which appear in the time he describes, but avoids the comparison between past events of Prohibition and nowadays Drug Wars. It was mentioned above that he denied connecting his story to modern political life. However, even a casual reader can notice his “sluggish” ideas. Book does not discuss only the questions of Prohibition. It also covers other themes, but in the light of Prohibition. Okrent points out religious questions and prejudice – generally, Jewish involvement in illegal liquor distribution, and sales. One man is arrested without any signs, to be suspected, just for his surname and religion.
Lots of people could find this book interesting from the very first page. Okrent adds just enough humor and irony to his writing. That makes the book interesting without ruining the main line. The author pays the reader’s attention to the industrial questions. Wine industry became the most inconsequential player in this fight. At the same time, beer industry and ordinary brewers, due to their German roots, were engaged in internecine warfare.
Anyway, it is not the end of the book. There is a continuous struggle of the whole country. The question of Prohibition is still under discussion. Even “The Simpsons” had the episode, which showed the Prohibition’s consequences brightly. Prohibition from Okrent’s point of view is not only the consequences, but also the struggle, freedom-loving spirit of the nation, its sufferings (not for everybody it was the time of suffering, quite the contrary) and trying to survive both the World and Constitutional War.
The book, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, is a significant discovery of the period and movements that lead to one of the nation’s biggest faults. It touches everything the reader expects – speakeasies, gangsters, bootleggers. At the same time, it does not dwell on the obvious. Quite the contrary, the emphasis is made on the people and organizations, which formed and then defiled Prohibition. These people manipulated Presidents, Congress and public and fomented anti-immigrant politics and the fear of urbanism. A phenomenal job is made by the author, to bring all his ideas into life. He describes political events and personalities, carefully elucidating their roles in forming of the United States and the development of the country. He uses not the personalities, but their actions in a key historical period, in the chronicles of the republic.
People needed more than ten years to understand all the consequences of Prohibition, such as increased lawlessness, corruption, greed and violence. Last Call leaves the reader wondering how long it will take, to stop and understand the consequences of nowadays Drug Wars and other Constitutional changes and amendments. It helps to make a conclusion by oneself, which is not the least of the facts making the book worth of attention.