If one was to judge The Prohibition Hangover by its cover, it would be an awful book. There is a blue drink garnished with both a nuclear maraschino cherry in the bottom of cocktail glass and a lime wedge balanced on the rim, right front and center. It really looks terrible. Or perhaps the cover is a subtle work of genius in that the drink, like Prohibition, is designed to leave a bad taste in one's mouth.
The thesis of the book is that Prohibition, which ended in 1933 in the US, shaped nearly all of today's alcohol laws and attitudes, and much of our behaviors towards it. This is undoubtedly true, but Peck takes a wide look at the topic.
We start the study with the history of the temperance movement culminating in Prohibition, and learn many of its effects today. Then Peck gives us a lengthy analysis of beer, wine, and spirit consumption trends and in-depth information on the top companies selling in each of these specialties.
In his chapter on spirits he focuses on bourbon with its history, information on how to drink it, the history of cocktails, and a travelogue of his trip along the American Whiskey Trail. This isn't the only detour in the book. In the wine chapter we have a multiple-page synopsis of the movie Sideways and its effects on the market. There is also much talk about the global market and globalization, which at first seems odd in a book about American Prohibition, but as we know the 18th Amendment had impacts across the globe.
Next we return to alcohol policy with a detailed explanation of the 2005 interstate alcohol shipping ruling that pitted the 21rst Amendment that granted states the right to control the sales of alcohol against free market laws relating to interstate commerce. These laws were always confusing to me so this chapter was my favorite in the book. (And you may have heard- last week Amazon.com decided to drop its plan to sell wine due to the all the distinct laws for shipping alcohol to different states, so this is quite relevant.)
We then learn about the policies towards alcohol of the Catholic, Baptist, and Methodist churches in the US and how they differ from each other. Then we look at the neo-Prohibitionists, public health advocates, and MADD, and the policies about alcohol advertising in print, television, and other mediums. The final chapter studies the 21-year-old drinking law, how it was passed, and why it should be lowered.
Note that the last chapter is largely an argument. Much of the book swings back and forth between analysis and argument, presenting the facts on both sides then sometimes (but not always) forming an opinion about what should be done. Sometimes Peck appears level headed and others it seems he has a bone to pick- with MADD, zero-tolerance driving laws, Sunday bans on sales of alcohol, raising taxes on booze, and dry counties. A lot of time his argument is the argument for a free market.
The central point Peck makes in this book is that since Prohibition attitudes towards alcohol have generally changed- it is considered a normal consumer product that two-thirds of adults consume and do not see it as inherently un-Christian or unhealthy. Yet it is still treated and regulated more like a controlled substance.
In my case he's preaching to the choir, though I found his arguments about the drinking age refreshing and the interstate commerce information enlightening. What I liked best about the book though was not the Prohibition stuff at all, but the market and social analysis. What is selling, to whom, who is drinking what, what are different laws in different states, who are the major players in different categories of alcohol, and the like. I found it to be one of the better books out there about the current alcohol market and I would recommend it for that reason alone, especially to people who work in alcohol sales, advertising, marketing, and distribution.
Don't judge The Prohibition Hangover by its cover, not just because the cover contains ugly drinks, but also because the title may not reveal the full value of the text.