Last Call by Daniel Okrent
The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

83%

13 Critic Reviews

With Last Call, Okrent has given America’s strange, 13-year experiment with universal sobriety the properly mixed comeuppance it long deserved.
-AV Club

Synopsis

A brilliant, authoritative, and fascinating history of America’s most puzzling era, the years 1920 to 1933, when the U.S. Constitution was amended to restrict one of America’s favorite pastimes: drinking alcoholic beverages.

From its start, America has been awash in drink. The sailing vessel that brought John Winthrop to the shores of the New World in 1630 carried more beer than water. By the 1820s, liquor flowed so plentifully it was cheaper than tea. That Americans would ever agree to relinquish their booze was as improbable as it was astonishing.

Yet we did, and Last Call is Daniel Okrent’s dazzling explanation of why we did it, what life under Prohibition was like, and how such an unprecedented degree of government interference in the private lives of Americans changed the country forever.

Writing with both wit and historical acuity, Okrent reveals how Prohibition marked a confluence of diverse forces: the growing political power of the women’s suffrage movement, which allied itself with the antiliquor campaign; the fear of small-town, native-stock Protestants that they were losing control of their country to the immigrants of the large cities; the anti-German sentiment stoked by World War I; and a variety of other unlikely factors, ranging from the rise of the automobile to the advent of the income tax.

Through it all, Americans kept drinking, going to remarkably creative lengths to smuggle, sell, conceal, and convivially (and sometimes fatally) imbibe their favorite intoxicants. Last Call is peopled with vivid characters of an astonishing variety: Susan B. Anthony and Billy Sunday, William Jennings Bryan and bootlegger Sam Bronfman, Pierre S. du Pont and H. L. Mencken, Meyer Lansky and the incredible—if long-forgotten—federal official Mabel Walker Willebrandt, who throughout the twenties was the most powerful woman in the country. (Perhaps most surprising of all is Okrent’s account of Joseph P. Kennedy’s legendary, and long-misunderstood, role in the liquor business.)

It’s a book rich with stories from nearly all parts of the country. Okrent’s narrative runs through smoky Manhattan speakeasies, where relations between the sexes were changed forever; California vineyards busily producing “sacramental” wine; New England fishing communities that gave up fishing for the more lucrative rum-running business; and in Washington, the halls of Congress itself, where politicians who had voted for Prohibition drank openly and without apology.

Last Call is capacious, meticulous, and thrillingly told. It stands as the most complete history of Prohibition ever written and confirms Daniel Okrent’s rank as a major American writer.
 

About Daniel Okrent

See more books from this Author
Daniel Okrent was the first public editor of The New York Times, editor-at-large of Time, Inc., and managing editor of Life magazine. He worked in book publishing as an editor at Knopf and Viking, and was editor-in-chief of general books at Harcourt Brace. He was also a featured commentator on Ken Burns’s PBS series, Baseball, and is author of four books, one of which, Great Fortune, was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in history. Okrent was also a fellow at the Shorenstein Center at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, where he remains an Associate. He lives in Manhattan and on Cape Cod with his wife, poet Rebecca Okrent. They have two children.
 
Published April 30, 2010 by Scribner. 508 pages
Genres: History. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Last Call
All: 13 | Positive: 12 | Negative: 1

Kirkus

Excellent

Both a rollicking recap of the Roaring ’20s and a cautionary tale about how a government’s attempts to legislate and monitor morality are nearly always doomed...Intoxicating.

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NY Times

Above average
on May 21 2010

It’s a story with an eerily familiar ring.

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Kirkus

Above average
on Dec 13 2010

Last Call examines not only the paradoxes of the time but, more importantly, the changes in politics that brought the government into our homes and redefined business as usual.

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NY Journal of Books

Good
on May 11 2010

Perhaps some day an author will chronicle the rise and fall of pot prohibition as superbly as Daniel Okrent has recounted America’s peculiar social experiment with banning booze.

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AV Club

Good
on Jun 03 2010

With Last Call, Okrent has given America’s strange, 13-year experiment with universal sobriety the properly mixed comeuppance it long deserved.

Read Full Review of Last Call: The Rise and Fall ... | See more reviews from AV Club

Entertainment Weekly

Excellent
on May 12 2010

...Okrent is a born storyteller. In his hands, the prodigiously researched narrative, rife with tales of corruption, adventure, and backstabbing, flies like fiction.

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Christian Science Monitor

Good
on May 17 2010

Prohibition may have been a failure. But its story – as recounted by Okrent in “Last Call” – is popular history at its best.

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USA Today

Good
on May 19 2010

But there should be a warning label on Okrent's intoxicating history. It's a glass half-full, half-empty. With his smart and well-written narrative, Okrent has the literary prowess to turn footnotes into full-blown chapters.

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Review (Barnes & Noble)

Good
on May 04 2010

...Last Call is a significant work of scholarship.

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Slate

Good
on Jun 03 2010

Okrent's dazzling history leaves us with one whiskey-sharp insight above all others: The War on Alcohol and the War on Drugs failed because they were, beneath all the blather, a war on human nature.

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Historical Novel Society

Excellent

The book is filled with jaw-dropping facts...For anyone with an interest in American history Last Call is a must read.

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Foreign Affairs

Excellent

Last Call belongs on the shelves of every serious student of the United States in the twentieth century.

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Open Salon

Above average
on Jan 25 2011

Last Call is probably best when recounting the maneuvers that led to Prohibition becoming law in the first place and the author packs a lot of perspective in a not-too-weighty tome.

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Reader Rating for Last Call
74%

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