Saturday, April 21, 2012

Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition

"Grapes, purple grapes, for your eating and mine,
But we'll turn down our glasses where pours the red wine."

If you were a student in the late 1800s, this poetry would be in your text books and taught to you daily, at home and at school. The decade prior to the addition of the 18th Amendment was full of strife, with women in particular. They were fighting for America to become a "dry" country; no liquor allowed!

Karen Blumenthal's "Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition" depicts the paradoxical time of the 1920s and the years that led up to it with creative insights and anecdotes.

"Bootleg" creates a comprehensive timeline regarding the history of prohibition, from the life of Morris Sheppard to the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) through the passing of the 18th Amendment and Al Capone. The book is filled with interesting pictures that are relevant to the subject matter and, in often cases, are striking and placed for readers' reactions. My favorite parts of "Bootleg" were when Blumenthal finally got to the part about the "speakeasies" and crime after the Amendment was passed. Frankly, I found myself more interested in the pictures than the text.

The writing and overall story I found hard to get interested it, which is surprising because I chose the book because I like to learn about this period. It was slow and some of the transitions were hard to see; I found myself asking why the author was talking about this person and I did not learn the answer for half a page, or more. Therefore, this book is best for students who do like to read or students who are really interested in history. As a teacher, I would use "Bootleg" in eighth to tenth grade classes, not only for the pictures, but because some of the anecdotes, like the poem above, are interesting. They are also relevant to students, in that this is what they could be learning, if prohibition laws were still in effect.


Nicole Dahl said...

It sounds like the pictures in the book are part of the force that engages the reader with it and pushes them along with the text. I enjoyed your comment that the pictures were placed for reader reaction and perhaps if students did read this book they could think or write about their reactions to the pictures. Maybe a book like this could be an additional text or reference for students to utilize in a history class when discussing this period. I also find historical information about speakeasies very interesting and maybe young adults would find that portion more enjoyable when they could connect to what was going on back then with Al Capone to places still around in Chicago and the surrounding areas .

Cessacolypse said...

I, too, love time pieces. If you'd like to read more about crime in the twenties, I recommend a book called 'Murder City' by Michael Lesy. It pretty much tells the history of crime in the twenties, all with awesome stories and pictures of crime scenes. If you don't feel like reading, I also recommend the HBO show 'Boardwalk Empire.' It definitely ties into Bootleg: it's set in the 20s during the prohibition, and features criminals involved in the selling of liquor--including Al Capone. The show is nothing less than fantastic.

amykate208 said...

It's too bad that this book was hard to get into for you. I personally love this time period and had wanted to read this book, but it had already been chosen :) I can see how the pictures would be an entertaining aspect of it as well. I still might go buy this book because anything involving prohibition interests me and I hope I enjoy it! And actually if you do have an interest in this time and the events that surrounded it, Chicago has a tour called the Gangster Tour. You're taken around the city and given historical information on things such a prohibition and the valentine's day massacre. It's a bit cheesy, but like I said, I'm into that stuff so I had a really fun time on the tour and I would recommend it to others!

Freddy in the Chi said...

Perhaps this book with the great pictures would be a good motivator for reluctant readers?