When I stumbled across a review on Daniel Okrent’s book, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, this past summer I knew I had to read it. A book featuring the 1920s, politics, speakeasies, and gangsters? It hit upon several of my interest points.
This book is an incredible narrative of the history of the 18th Amendment. This book is dense and reads like a text book. Its full of rich details. But it was missing something. Maybe its because I’ve been reading biographies lately that I wished that the author had chosen to focus on a couple characters and told the story through their perspectives. I found it difficult at times to keep everyone straight which I probably why I finally finished reading this only after several false starts during the past six months.
No book about prohibition could be written without mentioning the usual suspects, Al Capone and Joe Kennedy. They were included but I was surprised to find that Okrent believes that Joe Kennedy wasn’t a bootlegger. He believes that particular image/rumor started in the 1960s. While it was true that he made some of his vast fortune because of the alcohol trade, it wasn’t due to illegal activity. His argument is compelling, but I’m not quite sure I can give up that image just yet.
One final thought Okrent passes along is that while Prohibition is considered to be a huge failure it did achieve one thing: it caused Americans to drink less. The trend which continued for decades until the 1970s.
Okrent’s book is to be featured in an upcoming Ken Burns documentary on PBS. I look forward to that production. With all the details Okrent culled and Burn’s gift for storytelling, that proves to be a must see production.