The evening of Jan. 16, 1920, hours before Prohibition descended on America, while the young assistant secretary of the Navy, Franklin Roosevelt, drank champagne in Washington with other members of Harvard’s class of 1904, in Norfolk, Va., evangelist Billy Sunday preached to 10,000 celebrants: “The reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be only a memory. … ” Not exactly.

Daniel Okrent’s darkly hilarious “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” recounts how Americans abolished a widely exercised private right – and condemned the nation’s fifth-largest industry – in order to make the nation more heavenly.

Then all hell broke loose. Now that ambitious government is again hell-bent on improving Americans – from how they use salt to what light bulbs they use – Okrent’s book is a timely tutorial on the law of unintended consequences.

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