The War on Alcohol

The War on Alcohol

Prohibition and the Rise of the American State

Book - 2016
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WW Norton
A groundbreaking history of Prohibition and a new creation story for the powerful American state.
Prohibition has long been portrayed as a “noble experiment” that failed, a newsreel story of glamorous gangsters, flappers, and speakeasies. Now at last Lisa McGirr dismantles this cherished myth to reveal a much more significant history. Prohibition was the seedbed for a pivotal expansion of the federal government, the genesis of our contemporary penal state. Her deeply researched, eye-opening account uncovers patterns of enforcement still familiar today: the war on alcohol was waged disproportionately in African American, immigrant, and poor white communities. Alongside Jim Crow and other discriminatory laws, Prohibition brought coercion into everyday life and even into private homes. Its targets coalesced into an electoral base of urban, working-class voters that propelled FDR to the White House.This outstanding history also reveals a new genome for the activist American state, one that shows the DNA of the right as well as the left. It was Herbert Hoover who built the extensive penal apparatus used by the federal government to combat the crime spawned by Prohibition. The subsequent federal wars on crime, on drugs, and on terror all display the inheritances of the war on alcohol. McGirr shows the powerful American state to be a bipartisan creation, a legacy not only of the New Deal and the Great Society but also of Prohibition and its progeny.The War on Alcohol is history at its best—original, authoritative, and illuminating of our past and its continuing presence today.

Baker & Taylor
Argues that Prohibition was not simply a curious interlude that left no trace on American history, but was the seed bed for a huge expansion of the federal government, especially in its law-enforcement capacities.

Book News
Shortly after Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933, he put beer back on the menu after 14 years of Prohibition and crowds cheered at the White House gates. History professor McGirr finds that enforcement of the Volstead Act, which provided for enforcement of the 18th Amendment, hit working class, urban immigrant, and poor communities the hardest. She demonstrates how it sparked the Klu Klux Klan’s rise to power and escalated crime. Citing Prohibition as the impetus for expansion of the federal government, she asserts that Prohibition convinced Americans to look to the federal government for solutions, when the war on alcohol waned and crusaders turned their energies toward the less controversial war against recreational drugs. Annotation ©2016 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (

& Taylor

Argues that Prohibition was not simply a curious interlude that left no trace on American history, but was the seed bed for a huge expansion of the federal government, especially in its law-enforcement capacities.

Publisher: New York ;, London :, W.W. Norton & Company,, [2016]
Edition: First edition
Description: xxii, 330 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Copyright Date: ©2016
ISBN: 9780393066951
Branch Call Number: 363.410973 McG


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Dec 01, 2015

I look forward to reading this, but unlike the author, years ago when I researched this I came to a somewhat different conclusion: that a criminal mastermind, reported as the youngest bank president at age 25 in history, did leverage his rather pathetic bank, Columbia Trust, as a central point to convince the major money men of Wall Street to invest in the political push for prohibition, while conniving with the criminal outfits like the Chicago Syndicate and others to buy up, steal or strongarm the distilleries and hootches into giving up their ownership to them for a national monopoly. They would then launder much of their ill-gotten gain through the stock market, making for an occasional Roaring Twenties!
That criminal mastermind: old Joe Kennedy, of course!
And where did he come by that idea? While attending Harvard, an economic history course covering a rustic western town, Seattle, which granted women the right to vote in 1883, whereupon the ladies formed a winning political platform to outlaw alcohol consumption, shut down all the saloons and brothels, thereby bringing Seattle to economic ruin, and subsequently losing that right to vote until 1920!
[A fictionalized account of these events was written by Richard Condon called, Mile High.]

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