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 rumrunners, 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 gangstersÑPretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie and Clyde, Al CaponeÑand the notorious St. Valentine's Day Massacre. In an America still struggling with the problems of alcohol and drug dependency, Prohibition will strike an especially meaningful chord for today's readers.
The Roaring Twenties is one of our most romanticized eras. We tend to look back on the days of Prohibition as a golden time of freewheeling gangsters and gun-wielding G-men, all of whom really knew how to live. Edward Behr's thorough and comprehensive history of that time labors under no such misconceptions. Prohibition, as Behr so expertly illustrates, was a period of rampant corruption maintained by vicious violence and widespread dishonesty. The central character in Behr's story is bootlegger George Remus, who once recounted to the Senate how he was able to sell massive amounts of whiskey as medicine after purchasing a license from United States Attorney General Harry Daugherty. No reader of Prohibition will ever look back on the 1920s with quite the same naive pleasure.