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Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Okrent’

My grandfather lived in Ripley County, Missouri and was a farmer, Baptist preacher, and fox hunter.  As a child I remember he smoked a pipe often and he had an ever present cough.  To treat the cough he medicinaly applied a bit of whiskey each evening.  One of his hunting buddies would take his canning jar and glass lid to a blind tiger known to those who needed to know.

It was a stump on property owned by a “big city lumber company.”  The stump faced an open, sometimes cultivated field and dusty road.  To the back was thick brush and trees leading into swampy bottomland.

Sometime in the afternoon you put your money on the stump with the jar on top.  You came back early the next morning and picked up your filled jar, leaving by a route different than the one coming in.  It was not considered neighborly to create a path.

Stories about Prohibition and moonshine are fun to tell, but the truth is grim and dark.  Accustomed to the movie and television versions, Daniel Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise And Fall Of Prohibition will remake your history of the period.

Okrent writes in the Epilogue, “In almost every respect imaginable, Prohibition was a failure.  It encouraged criminality and institutionalized hypocrisy.  It deprived the government of revenue, stripped the gears of the political system, and imposed profound limitations on individual rights.  It fostered a culture of bribery, blackmail, and official corruption.  It also maimed and murdered, its excesses apparent in deaths by poison, by the brutality of ill-trained, improperly supervised enforcement officers, and by unfortunate proximity to mob gun battles.”

The author begins with the reform movements that built into the temperance movement, and covers the religious and political maneuvers that finally led to the enactment of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act.  He covers the metastasised evil of it all that met its end with the Twenty-First Amendment.  It’s a lot to cover which he does with great skill.

The myth of mobster/bootlegger lives on.  In today’s Wall Street Journal, July 20, 2010, there is a story by David Kesmodel about the bickering extended family of Al Capone and of a strange person who dresses like Al Capone and claims to be a grandson.  The extended family wants nothing to do with him or his request to exhume Al Capone’s body for DNA tests.

One myth the author deflates is that of Joe Kennedy, bootlegger and mob associate.  Those pages, 366 to 371, are Kennedy gold.

You’ll be glad you read the book.  Charles Marlin

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