Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City
In 1919, the United States embarked on the country's boldest attempt at moral and social reform: Prohibition. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution prohibited the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol around the country. This "noble experiment," as President Hoover called it, was intended to usher in a healthier, more moral, and more efficient society. Nowhere was such reform needed more, proponents argued, than in New York City--and nowhere did Prohibition fail more spectacularly. Dry Manhattan is the first major work on Prohibition in nearly a quarter century, and the only full history of Prohibition in the era's most vibrant city.
Though New Yorkers were cautiously optimistic at first, Prohibition quickly degenerated into a deeply felt clash of cultures that utterly transformed life in the city. Impossible to enforce, the ban created vibrant new markets for illegal alcohol, spawned corruption and crime, fostered an exhilarating culture of speakeasies and nightclubs, and exposed the nation's deep prejudices. Writ large, the conflict over Prohibition, Michael Lerner demonstrates, was about much more than the freedom to drink. It was a battle between competing visions of the United States, pitting wets against drys, immigrants against old stock Americans, Catholics and Jews against Protestants, and proponents of personal liberty against advocates of societal reform.
In his evocative history, Lerner reveals Prohibition to be the defining issue of the era, the first major "culture war" of the twentieth century, and a harbinger of the social and moral debates that divide America even today.
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Lerner has given us not a mere academic exhumation of a bygone New York, but an uncannily accurate description of New York last week and the city's fight against drugs.--John McWhorter"New York Sun" (06/21/2007)
Fascinating.--Frank Rich"New York Times" (03/15/2009)
Prohibition represented the most ambitious attempt to legislate personal behavior in the history of the United States. And New York City was ground zero in challenging this new moral code. Michael Lerner's account not only illuminates New York's centrality to the debates over alcohol; he demonstrates how Prohibition in New York produced some of the leading actors of the century - Al Smith, Fiorello LaGuardia, Jimmy Walker and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This enthralling and vivid account will be required reading for anyone interested in modern America.--Timothy J. Gilfoyle, author of A Pickpocket's Tale: The Underworld of Nineteenth-Century New York
Michael's Lerner's Dry Manhattan brings vividly back to life the story of the Prohibition years in New York City. Lerner is especially skilled at unearthing the small details that illuminate the larger truths about this contentious era, and these vignettes help to make Dry Manhattan a fascinating and rewarding book.--Tyler Anbinder, author of Five Points
Dry Manhattan is a pioneering work that changes our view of Prohibition in radical ways, from a bizarre episode to a conflict similar to modern day abortion, a debate that exposed major cultural divisions in America. In a compelling story, Lerner shows that the fight over prohibition was not about drinking, but over broader values, over competing visions of what kind of nation we were to be.--Robert Slayton, Chapman University
Lerner presents a riveting account of the attempt to rid the Big Apple of alcohol. The temperance movement forged unlikely alliances: Norwegian church groups found themselves allied with African-American labor activists who believed that Prohibition would benefit workers, especially African-Americans. Tea merchants and soda fountain manufacturers also supported Prohibition, thinking a ban on alcohol would increase sales of their products. But when Prohibition did come to New York, it was hard to enforce?corrupt cops sometimes set up shop in speakeasies. Prohibition raids were 'marked by blatant displays of religious intolerances, class bias, and outright bigotry, ' says Lerner. Working class neighborhoods, home to immigrants, were policed much more vigilantly than the dining rooms of WASP penthouses. Notions of a universal feminine morality were shattered by debates among women about Prohibition?organizations like the Women's Christian Temperance Union insisted that all women supported the 'noble experiment, ' but women journalists and flappers insisted that some members of the distaff sex wanted to drink. Though Lerner's study is informed by the relevant academic literature, he avoids tedious scholarly debates about Progressive Era reform, resulting in a fascinating study that will appeal to anyone who cares about the history of New York.-- (12/04/2006)
Lerner draws on contemporary books, song lyrics, and especially popular press articles to argue that Prohibition--a quintessential attempt at 'moral uplift' in the Progressive tradition as well as an attempt to impose a uniform standard of behavior--resulted from the first major 'culture war' of the 20th century...This engagingly written, fully annotated study will appeal to all social historians of the 20th century and popular culture enthusiasts.-- (02/15/2007)
In this solid account of the calamitous effect of dry utopianism on New York City, Lerner explains how the Prohibition amendment was passed and why its execution failed...Lerner's book is a serious work, suggesting that there are still lessons to be learned from the 13 years, 10 months and 18 days of a utopian American delusion. There remain a number of Americans today who are filled with similar angry visions, longing to make them into law.-- (03/11/2007)
Michael A. Lerner's Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City, explains just how upstate lobbyists, drunk only on power, snookered the Big Apple into supporting the Constitution's worst amendment.--Jonathan Durbin "men.style.com "
A fine history of a most troubling time.--Kirkus Reviews (starred review) (04/01/2007)
Dry Manhattan, a superb new book on America's experiment with Prohibition, should be required reading for anyone tempted to regulate private behavior by fiat.--Charles Trueheart"Bloomberg" (03/14/2007)
[An] exceptionally interesting book...Dry Manhattan is in all important respects exemplary, a singularly useful and revealing contribution to our understanding of a time from which the nation probably never will recover.-- (04/08/2007)
Mr. Lerner's painstaking research is generously on display in Dry Manhattan, and without the usual Jazz Age clichés. Rather, he draws a disturbing portrait of the 'dry' movement and how it exploited the country's fear of immigrants, then arriving from Europe in vast numbers.-- (03/27/2007)
When Prohibition was introduced to America in 1919, President Hoover referred to it as a 'noble experiment.' In Dry Manhattan, Michael Lerner writes the first full history of that experiment, detailing its disastrous effects, criminal enterprise, speak-easies and corporate sponsorship from tea and soda producers. The enforced sobriety also laid bare inequities of race, class and gender. Lerner, a born and raised New Yorker and the dean of studies at Bard High School Early College, writes in a highly entertaining fashion, his droll humor evident from the title and on through every page. The idea to shut down perceived decadence only caused it to flourish, while providing a terrific story for a born storyteller to sink his teeth into.-- (03/25/2007)
As Lerner shows, in what I call delightful detail, the presumptuousness of Prohibition assured its inevitable failure. It was not advanced through moral persuasion or education but through legislative mandate, which could only seem high-handed and oppressive. Indeed, it acted as a spur to drinking as a form of self-expression and fashionable impudence...Lerner's arguments are deft, and his summoning up of character and incident makes Dry Manhattan as entertaining to read as it is informative.-- (04/22/2007)
Nowhere was Prohibition more keenly felt or more hotly contested, Lerner argues, than in the diverse cosmopolis of New York City. The city's immigrant and working-class populations, disproportionately targeted by the dry lobby, resisted in great numbers by distilling their own alcohol and frequenting speakeasies. Meanwhile, liberalized ideas about drinking, sex, and leisure bred cultural rebellion in the middle classes, whose alcohol-filled night life became the subject of magazine reportage.-- (05/07/2007)
How did a nation founded on tolerance and the pursuit of happiness find itself bound by an idea rooted in intolerance and social control?...In this colorful book two truths emerge: you can take a person to water, but don't expect them to drink; and single-issue politics is rarely that at all.-- (04/28/2007)
In an intelligent, authoritative, and sometimes hilarious account--centered, appropriately, on that greatest of drinking metropolises, New York City--Michael A. Lerner has dug deep into a range of sources, from court records and interest-group papers to New Yorker dispatches and dispatchers' reports, to tell the story of the 'Noble Experiment' with surprising freshness. The result of his prodigious research, reflective analysis, and vivid storytelling is like a highball at the Cloud Club: tart and tasty going down, leaving you lapping intoxicatedly at the ice cubes.-- (06/01/2007)
More than retelling Prohibition's history, this work challenges readers to see how an early-20th-century debate over alcohol's place in U.S. culture profoundly influenced society...Rich, exciting, smartly written...A must read.-- (11/01/2007)