The best books on Prohibition in the USA

Many authors have picked their favorite books about Prohibition in the USA and why they recommend each book.

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Homesteading

By Percy Wollaston,

Book cover of Homesteading: A Montana Family Album

This book convinced me I would never have survived as a homesteader! Though not a professional writer, Wollaston does an incredible job of drawing in the reader and sharing heartwarming and heartwrenching details about the homesteader’s life.


Who am I?

I am a history-phobe turned history fanatic thanks to a snippet of a family story about my great-grandmother. Casual interest morphed into a focused passion when I learned that she truly had homesteaded-- all by herself and in her late teens-- in eastern Montana in 1917. Her accomplishment inspired four years of research and writing, resulting in my first historical novel, Hattie Big Sky, which earned a Newbery Honor award and spent weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. More importantly, that bit of family lore revealed my purpose as a writer and I have since devoted my career to bringing the past alive for today’s young readers.


I wrote...

Hattie Big Sky

By Kirby Larson,

Book cover of Hattie Big Sky

What is my book about?

For most of her life, sixteen-year-old Hattie Brooks has been shuttled from one distant relative to another. Tired of being Hattie Here-and-There, she summons the courage to leave Iowa and move all by herself to Vida, Montana, to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim. Under the big sky, Hattie braves hard weather, hard times, a cantankerous cow, and her own hopeless hand at the cookstove. 

This young pioneer's story is lovingly stitched together from Kirby Larson’s own family history and the sights, sounds, and scents of homesteading life.

Last Call

By Daniel Okrent,

Book cover of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

Americans have quite a different relationship with alcohol compared to Europeans. This book uncovers the background of how Prohibition came about, how influences other than alcohol were key, along with the ingenuity of people on both sides of the debate to put their case or dodge the restrictions. Full of stories that explore the men, indomitable women, bootleggers, and economic as well as social forces and hypocrisy involved in the establishment and eventual repeal of Prohibition laws across America.

Who am I?

I became intensely interested in wine while working in a Michelin Star kitchen where understanding how flavours work together, developing nuances in my palate, and an interesting wine list combine. Enthusiasm and passion led to success in wine examinations at the highest levels, working in wine retail, travelling the globe visiting amazing vineyards, and wineries, meeting iconic winemakers, influential vineyards managers, as well as other luminaries in the world of wine. The greatest benefit being many new friends and lifelong special memories. Along with the wine tastings I give, The Periodic Table of Wine is a way to share discovering wine and the joy it brings to new audiences.


I wrote...

The Periodic Table of Wine

By Sarah Rowlands,

Book cover of The Periodic Table of Wine

What is my book about?

The Periodic Table of Wine is sold globally to wine drinkers looking for adventure as well as beginner sommeliers starting out on their careers. Designed as a fun and quick way to give wine lovers more confidence in picking different wines they enjoy without being intimidated? The easy-to-use table, in an accessible pictorial format, shows how different wines relate, guiding you to new wines to discover and love.

The Bloody Mary

By Brian Bartels,

Book cover of The Bloody Mary: The Lore and Legend of a Cocktail Classic, with Recipes for Brunch and Beyond

Ending as I began, on the lighter side of things, I think that The Bloody Mary makes for an interesting single subject cocktail book as one can find. From its convoluted origins to its over-the-top renditions, the bloody mary is one of the very few recipes that have been consistently enjoyed from the Prohibition era throughout the 20th century and onward to today. Most proponents of the drink all claim to make the best one, so understanding the nuances of something as fun and all-encompassing as this brunch-time favorite, is bound to keep conversations going. And if nothing else, if you’re going to begin a drinker’s library, you may as well start with the one that’s the first drink of the day. 


Who am I?

I was raised in a ‘hospitality forward’ household to say the least. My parents always had family and friends over the house eating and drinking and although no one was in the food and beverage industry, most of the folks all had something to say about food and beverage. It was a fundamental part of the conversation. It carried over to me and became something that I focused on even before I was ever in the service industry. With experience, I became more knowledgeable, and my tastes became wider and a bit more refined, but the seeds were planted long ago.


I wrote...

The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book

By Frank Caiafa,

Book cover of The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book

What is my book about?

Frank Caiafa—bar manager of the legendary Peacock Alley bar in the Waldorf Astoria—stirs in recipes, history, and how-to while serving up a heady mix of the world's greatest cocktails. Learn to easily prepare pre-Prohibition classics such as the original Manhattan, or daiquiris just as Hemingway preferred them. Caiafa also introduces his own award-winning creations, including the Cole Porter, an enhanced whiskey sour named for the famous Waldorf resident.

Each recipe features tips and variations along with notes on the drink's history, so you can master the basics, then get adventurous--and impress fellow drinkers with fascinating cocktail trivia. The book also provides advice on setting up your home bar and scaling up your favorite recipe for a party.


The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book

By A.S. Crockett,

Book cover of The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book

Double duty as a bar book and memoir makes Crockett’s chronicle my must for skillfully conjuring two historical moments: the Golden Age of Cocktails (a.k.a. the Gilded Age) and the dark era of Prohibition. Anxious that memories of delectable cocktails and their recipes had been buried in the crypt of Prohibition’s thirteen years (1920-1933), journalist Crockett hastened to record and revive the drinks. His history is spot-on, and his fury at the nation’s failed “Noble Experiment” of Prohibition fuels this survivor’s fine wordsmithing.


Who am I?

Nightclubs and country clubs figured in my father’s business distributing snack foods in post-WWII “Steel City,” Pittsburgh, where I was served “Shirley Temple” cocktails in martini glasses alongside my parents’ Manhattans. (To my five- and six-year-old eye, the trophy was the maraschino cherry.) Decades later, teaching American literature in the university, my interest deepened in Jack London’s writing, and my book on him demanded close attention to the history of US cocktails and other drinks. London’s memoir, John Barleycorn, frankly details his drinking and eventual capture by alcohol. As a scholar-researcher, I was “captured” by the backstory of US cocktail culture.


I wrote...

Gilded Age Cocktails: History, Lore, and Recipes from America's Golden Age

By Cecelia Tichi,

Book cover of Gilded Age Cocktails: History, Lore, and Recipes from America's Golden Age

What is my book about?

America’s Golden Age of Cocktails jibed with the dawn of the telephone, electric lights, and the airplane. In the post-Civil War decades, bartenders’ innovations gave rise to the Manhattan, the Martini, and myriad other drinks popular to this day. Suddenly, ice was no longer a cheating bartender’s dilution, but an asset to chill whiskey, rum, or gin beverages compounded with flavorings, juices, and fruit garnishes that pleased both eye and palate. The new mixed drinks flourished at barrooms, sporting events, luncheons, balls, reunions, and on railroad cars, yachts, and ocean liners.

Cocktails honored America’s cities, celebrities, tycoons, scamps, and scoundrels. Colleges had signature drinks, and actresses were toasted with cocktails compounded in tribute to their starring roles on stage. The Temperance Movement warned against these demonic drinks, but cocktails stirred or shaken won the day.

The Savoy Cocktail Book

By Harry Craddock,

Book cover of The Savoy Cocktail Book

Harry Craddock was a master behind the bar, and The Savoy Cocktail Book may be the most thorough chronicle of classic recipes from the Prohibition era. With the 18th Amendment, Americans had only two choices if they wanted a drink in a bar: go to an illegal speakeasy or head to places beyond the grip of the teetotalers. One of these spots was the American Bar in London’s Savoy Hotel, so named because it was one of the first bars where one could sip “American” cocktails. The no-nonsense layout and massive breadth of the recipes make this a must-have for both the layman and the professional. Among Harry Craddock’s words of wisdom is this nugget: “Shake the shaker as hard as you can: don’t just rock it: you are trying to wake it up, not send it to sleep!” I follow this advice with every drink I shake.


Who am I?

Lesley Jacobs Solmonson has written the book Gin: A Global History and is completing Liqueur: A Global History. Her work has been seen in the Los Angeles Times, Imbibe, Sierra, and Gourmet. She is Senior Editor at Chilled magazine, as well as Cocktail/Spirits Historian at the Center of Culinary Culture in Los Angeles. With her husband David Solmonson, Lesley co-wrote The 12 Bottle Bar, a #1 best-selling cocktail book on Amazon. Named one of the “9 Best Cocktail Books" by the Independent UK, The 12 Bottle Bar is part of the permanent collection at the Museum of the American Cocktail. The Solmonsons’ work has been featured in numerous media outlets.


I wrote...

The 12 Bottle Bar: Make Hundreds of Cocktails with Just Twelve Bottles

By David Solmonson, Lesley Jacobs Solmonson,

Book cover of The 12 Bottle Bar: Make Hundreds of Cocktails with Just Twelve Bottles

What is my book about?

When the Cocktail Renaissance of the 21st century erupted, classic and modern recipes began to appear by the hundreds in magazines and books. As co-authors David Solmonson and Lesley Jacobs Solmonson started mixing and shaking, they quickly became disillusioned with the ingredient demands – availability, cost, and future usability – of the recipes. Surely, they thought, there was a better way to build a bar on a budget with a fixed number of bottles and still make a wide array of cocktails.

The ultimate goal was to write the kind of drink book you actually want to read. While the book is definitely an instruction manual for creating your bar and mixing drinks, it’s also a compendium of drink history, trivia, bar tricks, booze ballads, and just general nonsense.

Whiskey River

By Loren D. Estleman,

Book cover of Whiskey River

Loren Estleman is the quintessential Detroit novelist, with dozens of books under his belt set in the Motor City. The best of the bunch is Whiskey River, part of his Detroit Seven, which includes King of the Corner (another of my faves).

Whiskey River tells the story of reporter Connie Minor in 1928 Detroit, chasing a story that takes him through Detroit’s underworld of gangsters, bootleggers, crooked cops, and cold as ice criminals. This well-researched book includes the who’s who of Detroit Prohibition-era gangsters, like the Purple Gang, the Oakland Sugar House Mob, and the Machines. The question for Connie is whether the story he’s chasing will make him famous—or dead.


Who am I?

I am the author of the Will Anderson Detroit mystery series, which began with The Detroit Electric Scheme. I love vivid novels, those that pull me inside the pages and into the story. My interests balance between crime, historical fiction, and literary fiction. In short, I like a good story, and I don’t much care what label is placed on it. I live in Michigan with my wife and a pair of reasonably friendly cats.


I wrote...

The Detroit Electric Scheme: A Mystery

By D.E. Johnson,

Book cover of The Detroit Electric Scheme: A Mystery

What is my book about?

Will Anderson is a drunk, heartbroken over the breakup with his fiancée, Elizabeth. He's barely kept his job at his father's company—Detroit Electric, 1910's leading electric automobile manufacturer. Late one night, Elizabeth's new fiancé and Will's one-time friend, John Cooper, asks Will to meet him at the car factory. He finds Cooper dead, crushed in a huge hydraulic roof press. Surprised by the police, Will panics and runs, leaving behind his cap and automobile, and buries his blood-spattered clothing in a garbage can.

What follows is a fast-paced, detail-filled ride through early-1900s Detroit. Through it all, Will learns that clearing himself of the crime he was framed for is only the beginning. To survive, and for his loved ones to survive, he must also become a man.

Sprouting Wings

By Louisa Jaggar, Shari Becker, Floyd Cooper (illustrator)

Book cover of Sprouting Wings: The True Story of James Herman Banning, the First African American Pilot to Fly Across the United States

This is a story of an epic journey borne of determination and hard work. Despite facing discrimination, challenges to education, and lack of funds, Banning rose, literally, to the sky. The book deals with our history of racism but focuses on how Banning, with his high hopes and grit, was able to fulfill his dream. Floyd Cooper’s artwork will pull you into that place and time, heightening the experience. The backmatter shows the research that went into this book and how Banning’s fascinating story came to light.


Who am I?

Technically, I’m a lawyer and pharmacy technician but I spend my time writing, mostly for kids. I'm inspired by a childhood in different countries as well as what’s currently occurring in our world. I delight in stories for all ages, believing that even adults can enjoy and learn from picture book biographies. At the very least, they provide jumping-off points for further research, and at best they inspire us to achieve the seemingly impossible.


I wrote...

Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song

By Kathryn Erskine, Charly Palmer (illustrator),

Book cover of Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song

What is my book about?

Miriam Makeba, a Grammy Award–winning South African singer, rose to fame in the hearts of her people at the pinnacle of apartheid―a brutal system of segregation similar to American Jim Crow laws. Mama Africa, as they called her, raised her voice to help combat these injustices at jazz clubs in Johannesburg; in exile, at a rally beside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and before the United Nations.

Set defiantly in the present tense, this biography offers readers an intimate view of Makeba’s fight for equality. Kathryn Erskine’s call-and-response style text and Charly Palmer’s bold illustrations come together in a raw, riveting duet of protest song and praise poem. A testament to how a single voice helped to shake up the world―and can continue to do so.

The Story of Wine

By Hugh Johnson,

Book cover of The Story of Wine: From Noah to Now

This bestselling book first came out long before my own global history of wine and it has gone through a number of editions as well as translations. It takes on the long history of wine ‘from Noah to Now’ in a readable, well-informed narrative – as we would expect of Hugh Johnson, who is one of the best-known English wine writers and authors. His richly illustrated book has global range and covers all the world’s wine-producing regions. It’s an excellent example of history written for a non-specialist readership and is probably the book that has done more than any other to bring history to the attention of wine lovers.


Who am I?

I’ve been passionate about wine since I was a teenager in New Zealand and I now teach and write about it, judge in wine competitions, and travel the world to visit wine regions. I teach European history and the history of food and drink at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. As a wine historian, I spend weeks each year in archives, studying everything from changes in vineyard area and the weather in specific years to the taxation of wine and patterns of wine drinking. Currently, I’m working in several French archives for a book on wine in the French Revolution. It will be my ninth wine book.


I wrote...

French Wine: A History

By Rod Phillips,

Book cover of French Wine: A History

What is my book about?

After writing a global history of wine I decided to focus on France, the world’s best-known wine country. I’m a Francophile, so writing this book – which covers more than two thousand years, from the first vineyards to the present – was an absolute pleasure. I can’t imagine how many bottles of French wine helped me complete the book, which sets out the way wine interacted with politics, economic change, revolutions, wars, and cultural shifts in France. I look at topics such as the rise of famous regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne; the Church and wine; changes in vineyards and winemaking; and the regulation of wine production and consumption.

While showing how France’s winemakers survived centuries of challenges – including wars, revolutions, deadly winters, and vine diseases – my book also explodes many myths about French wine.

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