Monday, August 29, 2011

Nonfiction Monday Book Review: Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition, by Karen Blumenthal (Roaring Brook Press, 2011)

Recommended for ages 10 and up.

This fascinating new narrative nonfiction book delves into the story of Prohibition, a unique and colorful decade in our country's history.  Author Karen Blumenthal , a long-time journalist with the Wall Street Journal, puts her considerable writing skills to good use in explaining how the great social revolution known as Prohibition, which was supposed to forever end drunkenness, reduce crime, and improve the lives of America's families, led instead to a culture of lawlessness, bribery, gangsters, and even murder.

Blumenthal goes back to the earliest days of the Pilgrims to trace the history of liquor in America, noting that rum was almost a form of currency in the earliest days of the country.  In the 19th century, taverns multiplied, as did concerns about excessive drinking, leading to the formation of the temperance movement, who at first worked toward drinking in moderation.  Soon, however, the movement changed its platform to total abstinence.  The author profiles some of the most important personalities from the temperance movement, such as Morris Sheppard, the "boy orator of Texas" who was the first to introduce a constitutional amendment against "an evil that will prove to be the source of the nation's death," and Carrie Nation, the infamous "bar smasher" who believed she was on a mission from God to destroy saloons.  The temperance movement was the first to put women in leadership positions, and forever changed women's influence in politics.

The political machinations of the "dries" to get the 18th amendment passed could spur many interesting discussions about parallel political movements today, and the whole saga of the rise and fall of the temperance movement is made all-too-contemporary in Blumenthal's lively narrative, which is full of personal anecdotes as well as sweeping analysis of the failures and limited successes of the prohibition movement. 

The book includes a glossary of some of the colorful prohibition and temperance vocabulary (i.e. "real McCoy, hooch, moonshine, flapper, etc.) as well as a detailed bibliography (both books and websites) source notes, and an index.  The book is handsomely illustrated with many period photographs as well as cartoons and newspaper clippings.

To read an excerpt of the first few chapters from this book, click here

Several new YA series have come out about this era recently:  Bright Young Things, by Anna Godbersen, and the Flappers series by Jillian Larkin.  Bootleg would be a perfect read-along for both these series.

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