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Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America

Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America

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by Edward Behr

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From the bestselling author of The Last Emperor comes this rip-roaring history of the government’s attempt to end America’s love affair with liquor—which failed miserably. On January 16, 1920, America went dry. For the next thirteen years, the Eighteenth Amendment prohibited the making, selling, or transportation of “intoxicating


From the bestselling author of The Last Emperor comes this rip-roaring history of the government’s attempt to end America’s love affair with liquor—which failed miserably. On January 16, 1920, America went dry. For the next thirteen years, the Eighteenth Amendment prohibited the making, selling, or transportation of “intoxicating liquors,” heralding a new era of crime and corruption on all levels of society. Instead of eliminating alcohol, Prohibition spurred more drinking than ever before.

Formerly law-abiding citizens brewed moonshine, became rum- runners, and frequented speakeasies. Druggists, who could dispense “medicinal quantities” of alcohol, found their customer base exploding overnight. So many people from all walks of life defied the ban that Will Rogers famously quipped, “Prohibition is better than no liquor at all.” Here is the full, rollicking story of those tumultuous days, from the flappers of the Jazz Age and the “beautiful and the damned” who drank their lives away in smoky speakeasies to bootlegging gangsters—Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie and Clyde, Al Capone—and the notorious St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Edward Behr paints a portrait of an era that changed the country forever.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Prohibition did not go into effect until 1920, but, with the early Americans notorious for heavy drinking, numerous groups had been trying to ban alcohol for decades. Although there were several well-known temperance advocates in the early 1800s, prohibitionists were derailed by a series of more pressing national mattersthe abolitionist movement, the Civil War and Reconstruction. The "dry" cause picked up speed in 1893 with the formation of the Anti-Saloon League. Led by Wayne Wheeler, the ASL was a formidable lobbying group that was able to turn prohibition into a patriotic issue during WWI. With the conclusion of the war, and with the ASL and Wheeler at the height of their powers, passage of the Volstead Act was a foregone conclusion. Behr (The Last Emperor) tracks the 13 years of Prohibition primarily through the actions of Wheeler, bootlegger George Remus and Chicago mayor "Big Bill" Thomson, and in doing so stresses the corruption of politicians and law enforcement officials that made carrying out the 18th Amendment all but impossible. Behr calls Prohibition a disaster that helped cause some of today's problems by spurring the growth of organized crime. He also sees similarities between Prohibition and the current fight against drugs, and argues that an overhaul of antidrug legislation is long overdue. Although Behr's work is not a comprehensive examination of the Prohibition era, it is informative and entertaining from start to finish. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Library Journal
A&E, the Arts and Entertainment cable television channel, intends to produce a three-part miniseries based on this book, an interesting and readable history of the prohibition era. A journalist by trade, Behr masterly integrates family tales and expert interviews into his account of bootlegging, speakeasies, gangsterism, and racketeering. Although much of his book repeats what is already known about the troubled Twenties, it manages to break new ground by thoroughly telling the story of George Remus, a Cincinnati lawyer who became an influential bootlegger. Several chapters are devoted to Remus's business practices and associations with the likes of Harry Daugherty, Warren G. Harding's attorney general. The Remus story nicely illustrates the pervasive corruption of the period and will likely receive much attention in the upcoming television program. As A&E's interest in the book might suggest, it is written for general audiences. Recommended for public and undergraduate collections.Raymond J. Palin, St. Thomas Univ., Miami, Fla.

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Arcade Publishing
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6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Edward Behr, a veteran journalist and war correspondent, was the author of several books, including The Last Emperor, Prohibition, and Hirohito: Behind the Myth. He died in 2007.

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Prohibition 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
YoyoMitch More than 1 year ago
I have learned I enjoy reading history. My family record reveals some “investment” by various family members in the production of whiskey - before, during and after prohibition. Most of those family members considered their making corn whiskey was not a crime but a means to feed their families in a region where “cash jobs” were few and subsistence farming often fell short of producing enough to sustain a large family through the lean months. Seeing this volume in a dealers’ store awoke a desire within me to learn more about this era in American history that is largely shrouded in myth, distorted by the entertainment media and not a period covered in my educational past. I am glad I read this work, as it lifted some of the darkness around this time in history. For a volume that is as thin as is this one, the book is surprisingly thorough in its detail. The first four chapters are background to the how and why of prohibition in America. There was an active movement to ban alcohol from the United States early on in our past. In 1735, Parliament enacted Prohibition (except for beer) in Georgia due to the amount of alcohol consumed and the effect it had on productivity and health in that region, that law lasted until 1743. In 1814, a report was published that, in Massachusetts, each person drank, on average, 4.7 gallons of distilled spirits in that year. Americans, it seems, have always liked to drink alcohol. It was not until the religious community began to embrace the Temperance Movement that it the idea of Prohibition gained traction. In 1830 “churches began equating drunkenness with damnation, abstinence with salvation.” (p.22). This idea was “supported” by tales of alcohol causing “spontaneous combustion” in drinkers, in addition to a host of other physical and mental disorders. Because of this energy, alcohol quickly became a religious rather than a political or social problem. Had it not been for the focus upon the Civil War in the 1850’s, Prohibition would have occurred decades earlier. The final push for establishing the 18th Amendment was caused by women organizing and taking action (often very physical action) against “demon rum.” The Volstead Act was doomed to failure very nearly from the start. Law enforcement was ill-prepared for the lengths to which individuals would go to continue drinking. The statutes connected to the Act were so vague that enforcement was close too impossible. The money that could be made in the production, distribution and selling of alcohol was too great for there not to have been a well-organized alliance to supply alcohol as it was in higher demand after Prohibition than it was before. This demand was sparked by the illicitness now attached to an action that had been routine for generations. “It became the thing to do, among students, flappers, and respectable middle-class Americans all over the country, to defy the law – as much a manifestation of personal liberty as a thirst for alcohol.” (p. 89) The largest supplier of alcohol during the early days of Prohibition was George Remus, a lawyer, pharmacist and entrepreneur who made Cincinnati THE place for liquor distribution in North America; he did so by buying the whiskey from the U. S. Government!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hopefully, once and for all, this country has seen enough bloodshed to last a lifetime in the form of Prohibition in which corruption of the Prohibition Bureau, local cops,politicians (the worst of the breed) judges, juries,gangsters and the common public was so rampant that it walked in common toe against the status quo of the puritanical ways of church-goes, the KKK and women who crusaded against the 'noble experiment.' The hypocrisy that was the Volstead Act led to the most sweeping cultural, political, sexual, drugs, corruption, and gangland violence change that still permeates this country. May Harding and Wheeler rest in slavery equal to Hell. It was a sea-change, sometimes literally with rumrunners and the criminals they were helping like the indomitable George Remus and mythic Al Capone. I was fascinated that Cincinnati played such a huge part in Prohibition, since not much else has happened to the Queen City besides Manson, Doris Day, Cincinnati Zoo, and of course, the Reds. Glad we put something on the map!