Saturday, May 8, 2010

Daniel Okrent

Daniel Okrent's books include Great Fortune, a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in history. His new book is Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.

From his Q & A with James Mustich at the Barnes & Noble Review:

James Mustich: What drew you to Prohibition as a subject?

Daniel Okrent: My last book -- not counting a collection, but my last beginning-to-end book -- was a history of Rockefeller Center. I wrote a chapter about how the Rockefeller agents assembled the property, the three square blocks to build it on. And it turned out that those were the three blocks that were the center of the speakeasy belt in Manhattan, and to acquire the ground leases to 228 separate brownstones, the Rockefeller agents had to go place by place by place. I went to the city records to find out how they did it, and I kept on running into speakeasy owners who had more political clout than the Rockefeller family, who were able to stop them at various stages. I said, "Holy cow. How did that happen?" That's always the best way to start a book: how did that happen? Then it became a question of getting interested in Prohibition, and then wondering how did Prohibition happen. That's how Last Call was born.

JM: What was interesting to me in reading the book is the way you place Prohibition in a continuum; you go far back into the century before the Prohibition movement gathered steam, take us up to its passage through Congress, then go beyond its repeal to measure its lasting influence. This wider context transformed for me what we might call the received idea of Prohibition -- the idea that the whole country was hijacked by fanatic teetotalers for thirteen years, till it finally came to its senses.

DO: Actually...[read on]
Visit Daniel Okrent's website.

--Marshal Zeringue