Dry Manhattan by Michael A. Lerner
Prohibition in New York City

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In 1919, the United States embarked on the country's boldest attempt at moral and social reform: Prohibition. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution prohibited the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol around the country. This "noble experiment," as President Hoover called it, was intended to usher in a healthier, more moral, and more efficient society. Nowhere was such reform needed more, proponents argued, than in New York City--and nowhere did Prohibition fail more spectacularly. Dry Manhattan is the first major work on Prohibition in nearly a quarter century, and the only full history of Prohibition in the era's most vibrant city.

Though New Yorkers were cautiously optimistic at first, Prohibition quickly degenerated into a deeply felt clash of cultures that utterly transformed life in the city. Impossible to enforce, the ban created vibrant new markets for illegal alcohol, spawned corruption and crime, fostered an exhilarating culture of speakeasies and nightclubs, and exposed the nation's deep prejudices. Writ large, the conflict over Prohibition, Michael Lerner demonstrates, was about much more than the freedom to drink. It was a battle between competing visions of the United States, pitting wets against drys, immigrants against old stock Americans, Catholics and Jews against Protestants, and proponents of personal liberty against advocates of societal reform.

In his evocative history, Lerner reveals Prohibition to be the defining issue of the era, the first major "culture war" of the twentieth century, and a harbinger of the social and moral debates that divide America even today.


About Michael A. Lerner

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Michael A. Lerner is Associate Dean of Studies at Bard High School Early College in New York City.
Published December 15, 2008 by Harvard University Press. 360 pages
Genres: History. Non-fiction

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he shows that many judges, opposed to the dry movement and overwhelmed by the vast numbers of new arrests clogging their courtrooms, simply dismissed cases or levied minimal fines.

Apr 01 2007 | Read Full Review of Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in...

The New York Times

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Lerner’s words, that “the prohibition of alcohol and the elimination of the saloon would morally uplift the people of the United States, ultimately creating a healthier citizenry, safer cities and workplaces, and a more efficient society.” Skip to next paragraph Enlarge This Image I...

Mar 11 2007 | Read Full Review of Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in...


In his book Dry Manhattan, Michael Lerner (associate dean at Bard High School Early College in New York City) not only portrays the impact of Prohibition on the Big Apple in fascinating detail, but also offers key insights into the political process that both made Prohibition possible and led to ...

Jul 24 2008 | Read Full Review of Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in...

Project MUSE

Lerner traces these developments in considerable detail, all of it supporting his observation that, far from uniting New Yorkers in a common reform cause, the Eighteenth Amendment instead "had polarized New York between irreconcilable dry and wet camps, one bent on enforcing Prohibition at any co...

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Project MUSE

However, in Lerner’s opinion New York had a larger importance, stating that “Anderson’s success or failure in New York would prove critical to the national campaign for Prohibition.

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Project MUSE

Lerner tells a familiar story of prohibition's unintended consequences, tracing the arc of New York City prohibition history from the Anti-Saloon League (the first modern political action committee) to the repeal in the early 1930's.

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