The Great Illusion Herbert Asbury
ARCs, Herbert Asbury

The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition

Author: Herbert Asbury | Publisher: Dover Publications

The Great Illusion is a fast paced, detailed and interesting look at why prohibition came about, and why, ultimately, it failed as an experiment. If you enjoy history, or are interested in the period, this is a must read.

Asbury has a compelling tone and the book is well-written, with engaging language and a good balance between pace and tightly focused detail. I found the book easy to read and informative, which was helped by Asbury’s light and humorous style. If it was a little slow to start, by the time we came to gangsters and bootleggers (which is what most of us are really interested in), I was hooked.

Asbury relies upon and quotes some very authoritative original texts, which lent the whole story an air of authenticity. As it should have, considering Asbury is a descendant of a leader of the temperance movement; which rather lends the book a certain je ne sais quoi, I think.

I came away feeling I had definitely learned something, and not just the recipes for some rather dodgy sounding rum cocktails! Which, why the way, you’ll also find in this book. Syllabub, anyone? (Yuck)

My only minor criticism, as an English reader, would be that the book was clearly written by an American, for other Americans. Asbury kept referring to America as “this country”. Now, I obviously knew what he meant, but it just felt rather exclusionary for those of us outside of the US.

I very much enjoyed this book and would recommend it for anyone interested in the period.

Rating: 4/5


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