Do you get psyched about the prospect of panning over black and white photos while a narrator describes what is going on in those photos? If you said, “Yeah, buddy!” then Ken Burn’s brand new Prohibition is for you.

With a total running time of 6 hours, it is relatively digestible as the equivalent of watching three movies. And in all seriousness, these black and white photos featuring denizens of the Jazz Age are truly intriguing. Even more so is the occasional bit of footage of flappers dancing, heaven knows the source.

It is not the documentary for you if your heart bleeds at the sight of innocent glass jugs being blasted apart by Volstead enforcers or the occasional bullet-riddled pinstriped gangster.

Fun Prohibition facts:
“Bad guy” Al Capone financed the soup kitchen that fed thousands on Chicago’s south side as the Great Depression took hold. The best charge the feds could level against Mr. Capone (other than keen business acumen in a market they created) is income tax evasion. Shockingly he didn’t declare all his profits on his 1040-EZ form.

Small cities of Bahamanian freighters would drop anchor three miles off the Atlantic coast to make deliveries to local boats. No one cared.

Many “Dry” congresspeople drank, some even accepting deliveries at the Capitol.

Alcohol consumption increased in some cities.

Some milkmen would deliver hooch to your doorstep in innocuous bottles to streamline the purchasing process.

Numbers exponentially surged for medical whiskey prescriptions and synagogue memberships.

I’ve never watched a documentary from the renowned master, Ken Burns. This was time well spent.

wettest countyNo, this has nothing to do with rainfall. Rather, the “wet” refers to moonshine.  The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, a fictionalized account about the real-life Bondurant brothers in Depression-era Virginia is gritty, gutsy and sometimes even gory.  It’s narrated primarily by the youngest brother, Jack, who is in fact, the grandfather of the author.  The author, Matt Bondurant, also enlists the help of  Winesburg, Ohio author Sherwood Anderson who started his own investigation (in 1934) of the brothers’ dramatic confrontation with the county sheriff.  In doing so, Anderson was the first to dub Franklin County the “wettest county in the world.”

The story begins in 1928 when a pair of thieves rob Forest Bondurant of his large stash of bootlegging money and end up cutting his throat.  Somehow he manages to reach a hospital 12 miles away.  Soon after, two anonymous men appear at the same hospital, one with legs totally shattered, the other castrated.  Needless to say, they aren’t talking. You get the picture — this is real roughneck country and the Bondurant boys are no angels.

Bondurant does an excellent job of imagining and portraying the probable lives of his ancestors.  It’s not always pretty, but it does give the reader a gripping view of their struggles to survive during Prohibition in the poverty-stricken foothills of westernVirginia.

I’m amazed how many folks haven’t read this yet. I guarantee you will not be anything but fascinated and thoroughly entertained by Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants.

This story is about young Jacob’s interlude with the circus during the Depression and Prohibition. Fascinating are the circus days of old – truly a culture in and of itself. Entertaining are the diverse characters – from ringmasters and those in the side shows to the roustabouts and the star of the circus – Rosie the elephant. The story is reminisced by Jacob in his elder years. Gruen’s descriptions and story developments are fantastic. You can feel Jacob’s passion in youth and fearful frustration in old age. There is romance and murder; tragedy and hope. Best of all, it has a great ending.