Sunday, June 6, 2010

Daniel Okrent's "Last Call"

Daniel Okrent was the first public editor of the New York Times, editor-at-large of Time, Inc., and managing editor of Life magazine. He worked in book publishing as an editor at Knopf and Viking, and was editor-in-chief of general books at Harcourt Brace. He was also a featured commentator on Ken Burns’s PBS series, Baseball, and is author of four books, one of which, Great Fortune, was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in history. Okrent was also a fellow at the Shorenstein Center at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, where he remains an Associate.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, and reported the following:
I’m fairly fond of my page 99, for it underscores the thrust of the Prohibition movement, which was simultaneously delusional and disingenuous. The time is 1918, as World War I rages; the Prohibitionists, embodied by William Jennings Bryan, are using the war to further their anti-alcohol cause:
“How can we justify the making of any part of our foodstuffs into intoxicating liquor,” Bryan asked, “when men are crying out for bread?” Anticipating the end of the war, Billy Sunday took a more cheerful approach. “The Problem of what to do with the farm surplus will be solved in a jiffy,” Sunday said. “The children of drunkards will consume this surplus in the form of flap-jacks for breakfast.”
The consequence, as the page goes on to relate, was a series of prohibitory laws enacted by Congress that prefigured the Constitutional amendment lurking around the corner. The war had given the Drys perfect cover: a patriotic excuse for their overreaching zeal.
See a graphic excerpt from Last Call, and view a video of Okrent discussing the book.

Learn more about the book and author at Daniel Okrent's website.

--Marshal Zeringue