Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City

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Overview

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution prohibited the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol around the country. It was intended to usher in a more healthy, moral, and 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.
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Editorial Reviews

Financial Times

How did a nation founded on tolerance and the pursuit of happiness find itself bound by an idea rooted in intolerance and social control?...In this colorful book two truths emerge: you can take a person to water, but don't expect them to drink; and single-issue politics is rarely that at all.
— Toby Moore

New York Sun

Lerner has given us not a mere academic exhumation of a bygone New York, but an uncannily accurate description of New York last week and the city's fight against drugs.
— John McWhorter

Bookforum

In an intelligent, authoritative, and sometimes hilarious account—centered, appropriately, on that greatest of drinking metropolises, New York City—Michael A. Lerner has dug deep into a range of sources, from court records and interest-group papers to New Yorker dispatches and dispatchers' reports, to tell the story of the 'Noble Experiment' with surprising freshness. The result of his prodigious research, reflective analysis, and vivid storytelling is like a highball at the Cloud Club: tart and tasty going down, leaving you lapping intoxicatedly at the ice cubes.
— David Greenberg

Choice

More than retelling Prohibition's history, this work challenges readers to see how an early-20th-century debate over alcohol's place in U.S. culture profoundly influenced society...Rich, exciting, smartly written...A must read.
— T. D. Beal

New York Times

Fascinating.
— Frank Rich

New York Times Book Review

In this solid account of the calamitous effect of dry utopianism on New York City, Lerner explains how the Prohibition amendment was passed and why its execution failed...Lerner's book is a serious work, suggesting that there are still lessons to be learned from the 13 years, 10 months and 18 days of a utopian American delusion. There remain a number of Americans today who are filled with similar angry visions, longing to make them into law.
— Pete Hamill

men.style.com

Michael A. Lerner's Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City, explains just how upstate lobbyists, drunk only on power, snookered the Big Apple into supporting the Constitution's worst amendment.
— Jonathan Durbin

Bloomberg

Dry Manhattan, a superb new book on America's experiment with Prohibition, should be required reading for anyone tempted to regulate private behavior by fiat.
— Charles Trueheart

Washington Post Book World

[An] exceptionally interesting book...Dry Manhattan is in all important respects exemplary, a singularly useful and revealing contribution to our understanding of a time from which the nation probably never will recover.
— Jonathan Yardley

Time Out New York

The book is not just a riveting historical study of corruption and crime but a smart reflection on the absurd attempt to ban alcohol, especially in a metropolis like New York.
— Liz Brown

Wall Street Journal

Mr. Lerner's painstaking research is generously on display in Dry Manhattan, and without the usual Jazz Age clichés. Rather, he draws a disturbing portrait of the 'dry' movement and how it exploited the country's fear of immigrants, then arriving from Europe in vast numbers.
— Russ Smith

New York Post

When Prohibition was introduced to America in 1919, President Hoover referred to it as a 'noble experiment.' In Dry Manhattan, Michael Lerner writes the first full history of that experiment, detailing its disastrous effects, criminal enterprise, speak-easies and corporate sponsorship from tea and soda producers. The enforced sobriety also laid bare inequities of race, class and gender. Lerner, a born and raised New Yorker and the dean of studies at Bard High School Early College, writes in a highly entertaining fashion, his droll humor evident from the title and on through every page. The idea to shut down perceived decadence only caused it to flourish, while providing a terrific story for a born storyteller to sink his teeth into.
— William Georgiades

Boston Globe

As Lerner shows, in what I call delightful detail, the presumptuousness of Prohibition assured its inevitable failure. It was not advanced through moral persuasion or education but through legislative mandate, which could only seem high-handed and oppressive. Indeed, it acted as a spur to drinking as a form of self-expression and fashionable impudence...Lerner's arguments are deft, and his summoning up of character and incident makes Dry Manhattan as entertaining to read as it is informative.
— Katherine A. Powers

New York Times
Fascinating.
— Frank Rich
Jonathan Yardley
[Lerner] turns out to be exactly the right person to tell this story, and he tells it very well &$#8230; Dry Manhattan is in all important respects exemplary, a singularly useful and revealing contribution to our understanding of a time from which the nation probably never will recover.
— The Washington Post
Pete Hamill
… Lerner’s book is a serious work, suggesting that there are still lessons to be learned from the 13 years, 10 months and 18 days of a utopian American delusion. There remain a number of Americans today who are filled with similar angry visions, longing to make them into law.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Lerner, associate dean of studies at the Bard High School Early College, presents a riveting account of the attempt to rid the Big Apple of alcohol. The temperance movement forged unlikely alliances: Norwegian church groups found themselves allied with African-American labor activists who believed that Prohibition would benefit workers, especially African-Americans. Tea merchants and soda fountain manufacturers also supported Prohibition, thinking a ban on alcohol would increase sales of their products. But when Prohibition did come to New York, it was hard to enforce—corrupt cops sometimes set up shop in speakeasies. Prohibition raids were "marked by blatant displays of religious intolerances, class bias, and outright bigotry," says Lerner. Working-class neighborhoods, home to immigrants, were policed much more vigilantly than the dining rooms of WASP penthouses. Notions of a universal feminine morality were shattered by debates among women about Prohibition—organizations like the Women's Christian Temperance Union insisted that all women supported the "noble experiment," but women journalists and flappers insisted that some members of the distaff sex wanted to drink. Though Lerner's study is informed by the relevant academic literature, he avoids tedious scholarly debates about Progressive Era reform, resulting in a fascinating study that will appeal to anyone who cares about the history of New York. (Mar.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Lerner (associate dean of studies, Bard H.S. Early Coll., New York) draws on contemporary books, song lyrics, and especially popular press articles to argue that Prohibition—a quintessential attempt at "moral uplift" in the Progressive tradition as well as an attempt to impose a uniform standard of behavior—resulted from the first major "culture war" of the 20th century. The coercive efforts of the Anti-Saloon League, in contrast to the more voluntaristic and persuasive methods of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, through lobbying rather than engaging in democratic debate, set Prohibition up for resentment and derision during the iconoclastic period following World War I. Rebellious flaunting of what was the 18th Amendment to the Constitution shaped urban gender roles and entertainment while fostering crime and corruption. New York City epitomized a pluralistic, ethnic-flavored, cosmopolitan culture pitted against a more monolithic, rural American heartland. Gotham's growing opposition to the 18th Amendment fueled the careers of such politicians as James J. Walker, Al Smith, Fiorello LaGuardia, and FDR. Although Lerner may unduly emphasize New York's uniqueness as the "wet metropolis" and as the city most influenced by immigrant sentiments (Prohibition was habitually enforced against its immigrant populations), this engagingly written, fully annotated study will appeal to all social historians of the 20th century and popular culture enthusiasts. Highly recommended.
—Frederick J. Augustyn Jr.
Kirkus Reviews
Drys vs. wets in Jazz-Age Gotham. Guess who wins. The clear, focused text provides ample evidence of this first-time author's wide research and deep familiarity with the relevant sources. Lerner (Assoc. Dean of Studies/Bard High School Early College) recognizes Prohibition's central issue: the desire to define morality narrowly and to force that definition upon others. Teeming with immigrants and overflowing with booze, New York City seemed an unlikely battlefield, but William H. Anderson and his Anti-Saloon League came, saw and conquered. Anderson began his fierce and creative anti-alcohol campaign upon arrival in the city in 1914; by 1920, Prohibition was constitutional. The author does a good job of exploring and explaining Anderson's strategies and of identifying the cultural and historical forces that enabled his initial successes, among them the identification of beer-drinking with Germans, America's opponents in World War I. But, as Lerner notes, many counterforces weakened and then destroyed the dry movement. Alcohol had long been a part of sundry religious rituals, and the jobs of numerous New Yorkers were tied to the alcohol industry. Servers and bartenders were hurt by the ban on booze, of course, but so were truck drivers, bottle-makers, farmers and others. Lerner looks at how law enforcement and the judicial system reacted. He examines the conflicts between the federal agents and the local cops; 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. The drinking continued unabated, and a criminal class emerged to dominate the industry. Lerner ends withthe 1928 and 1932 presidential campaigns of Al Smith and FDR, who both went wet. It's disappointing that he declines to highlight contemporary parallels, since procrustean moralists remain among us, as does a "drug war."A fine history of a most troubling time.
New Yorker
Nowhere was Prohibition more keenly felt or more hotly contested, Lerner argues, than in the diverse cosmopolis of New York City. The city's immigrant and working-class populations, disproportionately targeted by the dry lobby, resisted in great numbers by distilling their own alcohol and frequenting speakeasies. Meanwhile, liberalized ideas about drinking, sex, and leisure bred cultural rebellion in the middle classes, whose alcohol-filled night life became the subject of magazine reportage.
Timothy J. Gilfoyle
Prohibition represented the most ambitious attempt to legislate personal behavior in the history of the United States. And New York City was ground zero in challenging this new moral code. Michael Lerner's account not only illuminates New York's centrality to the debates over alcohol; he demonstrates how Prohibition in New York produced some of the leading actors of the century - Al Smith, Fiorello LaGuardia, Jimmy Walker and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This enthralling and vivid account will be required reading for anyone interested in modern America.
Tyler Anbinder
Michael's Lerner's Dry Manhattan brings vividly back to life the story of the Prohibition years in New York City. Lerner is especially skilled at unearthing the small details that illuminate the larger truths about this contentious era, and these vignettes help to make Dry Manhattan a fascinating and rewarding book.
Robert Slayton
Dry Manhattan is a pioneering work that changes our view of Prohibition in radical ways, from a bizarre episode to a conflict similar to modern day abortion, a debate that exposed major cultural divisions in America. In a compelling story, Lerner shows that the fight over prohibition was not about drinking, but over broader values, over competing visions of what kind of nation we were to be.
New York Times Book Review - Pete Hamill
In this solid account of the calamitous effect of dry utopianism on New York City, Lerner explains how the Prohibition amendment was passed and why its execution failed...Lerner's book is a serious work, suggesting that there are still lessons to be learned from the 13 years, 10 months and 18 days of a utopian American delusion. There remain a number of Americans today who are filled with similar angry visions, longing to make them into law.
men.style.com - Jonathan Durbin
Michael A. Lerner's Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City, explains just how upstate lobbyists, drunk only on power, snookered the Big Apple into supporting the Constitution's worst amendment.
Bloomberg - Charles Trueheart
Dry Manhattan, a superb new book on America's experiment with Prohibition, should be required reading for anyone tempted to regulate private behavior by fiat.
Washington Post Book World - Jonathan Yardley
[An] exceptionally interesting book...Dry Manhattan is in all important respects exemplary, a singularly useful and revealing contribution to our understanding of a time from which the nation probably never will recover.
Time Out New York - Liz Brown
The book is not just a riveting historical study of corruption and crime but a smart reflection on the absurd attempt to ban alcohol, especially in a metropolis like New York.
Wall Street Journal - Russ Smith
Mr. Lerner's painstaking research is generously on display in Dry Manhattan, and without the usual Jazz Age clichés. Rather, he draws a disturbing portrait of the 'dry' movement and how it exploited the country's fear of immigrants, then arriving from Europe in vast numbers.
New York Post - William Georgiades
When Prohibition was introduced to America in 1919, President Hoover referred to it as a 'noble experiment.' In Dry Manhattan, Michael Lerner writes the first full history of that experiment, detailing its disastrous effects, criminal enterprise, speak-easies and corporate sponsorship from tea and soda producers. The enforced sobriety also laid bare inequities of race, class and gender. Lerner, a born and raised New Yorker and the dean of studies at Bard High School Early College, writes in a highly entertaining fashion, his droll humor evident from the title and on through every page. The idea to shut down perceived decadence only caused it to flourish, while providing a terrific story for a born storyteller to sink his teeth into.
Boston Globe - Katherine A. Powers
As Lerner shows, in what I call delightful detail, the presumptuousness of Prohibition assured its inevitable failure. It was not advanced through moral persuasion or education but through legislative mandate, which could only seem high-handed and oppressive. Indeed, it acted as a spur to drinking as a form of self-expression and fashionable impudence...Lerner's arguments are deft, and his summoning up of character and incident makes Dry Manhattan as entertaining to read as it is informative.
Financial Times - Toby Moore
How did a nation founded on tolerance and the pursuit of happiness find itself bound by an idea rooted in intolerance and social control?...In this colorful book two truths emerge: you can take a person to water, but don't expect them to drink; and single-issue politics is rarely that at all.
New York Sun - John McWhorter
Lerner has given us not a mere academic exhumation of a bygone New York, but an uncannily accurate description of New York last week and the city's fight against drugs.
Bookforum - David Greenberg
In an intelligent, authoritative, and sometimes hilarious account--centered, appropriately, on that greatest of drinking metropolises, New York City--Michael A. Lerner has dug deep into a range of sources, from court records and interest-group papers to New Yorker dispatches and dispatchers' reports, to tell the story of the 'Noble Experiment' with surprising freshness. The result of his prodigious research, reflective analysis, and vivid storytelling is like a highball at the Cloud Club: tart and tasty going down, leaving you lapping intoxicatedly at the ice cubes.
Choice - T. D. Beal
More than retelling Prohibition's history, this work challenges readers to see how an early-20th-century debate over alcohol's place in U.S. culture profoundly influenced society...Rich, exciting, smartly written...A must read.
New York Times - Frank Rich
Fascinating.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674030572
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2008
  • Pages: 360
  • Sales rank: 780,789
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael A. Lerner is Associate Dean of Studies at Bard High School Early College in New York City.
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Table of Contents

Introduction

1. The Dry Crusade

2. A New Era?

3. A Hopeless and Thankless Task

4. The Brewers of Bigotry

5. The Itch to Try New Things

6. Vote as You Drink

7. I Represent the Women of America!

8. Hooch Joints In Harlem

9. Al Smith, the Wet Hope of the Nation

10. The End of the Party

11. A Surging Wet Tide

12. The Wet Convention and the New Deal

Abbreviations

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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