Prohibition has long been portrayed as a “noble experiment” that failed, a newsreel story of glamorous gangsters, flappers, and speakeasies. In The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State, Lisa McGirr dismantles this cherished myth to reveal a much more significant history.
Prohibition was the seedbed for a pivotal expansion of the federal government, the genesis of our contemporary penal state and shows how the war on alcohol was waged disproportionately in African American, immigrant, and poor white communities. Alongside Jim Crow and other discriminatory laws, Prohibition brought coercion into everyday life and even into private homes. Its targets coalesced into an electoral base of urban, working-class voters that propelled FDR to the White House.