Review: Bootleg by Karen Blumenthal

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It began with the best of intentions. Worried about the effects of alcohol on American families, mothers and civic leaders started a movement to outlaw drinking in public places. Over time, their protests, petitions, and activism paid off—when a Constitutional Amendment banning the sale and consumption of alcohol was ratified, it was hailed as the end of public drunkenness, alcoholism, and a host of other social ills related to booze. Instead, it began a decade of lawlessness, when children smuggled (and drank) illegal alcohol, the most upright citizens casually broke the law, and a host of notorious gangsters entered the public eye. Filled with period art and photographs, anecdotes, and portraits of unique characters from the era, this fascinating book looks at the rise and fall of the disastrous social experiment known as Prohibition.

Prohibition is generally a hard thing to explain to high schoolers. Alcohol is just such a normal part of life that most teenagers can’t imagine a time when it would be illegal to the general public. This book gives  good background on why Prohibition got passed and has plenty of ties to the modern “war on drugs”. It’s not that Prohibition was a bad idea, it’s just that it wasn’t enforced and there was no way of knowing how blatantly Americans would defy the new law. This is a good, easily understandable explanation of how things got so out of hand and how something that was perceived to be for the good of the nation ended up crashing and burning. Lots of pictures, lots of well explained background, and the author does an excellent job of not condemning Prohibition out of hand, but pointing out WHY it didn’t work and why it was such an issue to begin with.

4 out of 5

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