Dry Manhattan: Book Review

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“During his tenure in Maryland, William Anderson had come to embody a new American reform movement, a ‘dry crusade’ characterized by a desire to impose temperance on the United States, and especially on American cities, through lobbying, legislative efforts, and the enforcement of stricter liquor laws” (Lerner 7). He, along with the Anti-Saloon League, was determined to abolish the liquor trade in the United States of America. The Webb-Kenyon Act helped to bring them closer to their goals, banning the shipment of liquor into dry states. Because of this, Anderson decided to take his campaign a little further, moving North into New York.

Anderson was determined to persuade New York as a whole to become a dry state because it was larger than most states. It was full of immigrants and cosmopolitan life. Anderson and the Anti-Saloon League knew they had their work cut out for them because New York was one of the wettest cities to exist, and because it was nearly impossible to immediately ban alcohol. Because of this, the National Anti-Saloon League was totally dedicated towards New York, making an attempt to dedicate it into a model of temperance. Despite these set backs, Anderson was still dedicated to trying to quickly end New York’s liquor trade, threatening to severely punish anyone who stood in his way. His persistence was a force to be reckoned with, because he and the Anti-Saloon League got what they wanted, at least temporarily. Later down the line, people eventually went back to drinking for comfort when the city began to go through though economic times, especially since alcohol became much cheaper with some things being completely free. The end of Prohibition came with Roosevelt’s presidency, and alcohol went back to being a normal part of daily life in the city. Michael Lerner’s Dry Manhattan tells the complete story of this from beginning to end, and it is a very interesting and captivating read. Not only does Lerner give insight to the alcohol problem of the time, but he also gives a detailed tour of everything going on during that era. Throughout Dry Manhattan, Lerner takes the reader on a detailed tour of how the Prohibitionists fought a strong battle. The reader is taken on a journey through the political process that made Prohibition possible and that led to its demise. Lerner also shows that Prohibition was about much more than just the freedom to drink; it was also a battle between competing ideas of what the United States of America, the wets against the drys, immigrants against old stock Americans, Catholics and Jews against Protestants, and personal liberty against societal reform. He also gives vivid detail on how the Prohibition movement deeply impacted New York City.

In 1919, the United States made its boldest attempt at political and social reform: Prohibition. The 18th Amendment of the Constitution prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol around the United States of America. This was designed in order to better society as a whole. The reform movement was needed in New York City more than anywhere else, and this is also where it failed. In the beginning, New Yorkers were open to experience the change, but it eventually degenerated, transforming city life into something unimaginable. The 18th Amendment could not really be enforced, resulting in the manufacturing, sale, and use of illegal alcohol, crime, corruption, and the emergence of several nightclubs and speakeasies. Lerner definitely shows that the Prohibition movement was one of the most defining issues during the time.

Michael Lerner did an excellent job with taking the reader on a tour through the Prohibition movement. Lerner’s writing style is amazing because he gives the reader a sense of actually being in the time, going through each an every experience that is described in the reading. The beginning of chapter 5, “The Itch to Try New Things” states that:

“On any given night during the...
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