Review: Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition (Blumenthal)

AUTHOR: Karen Blumenthal
SERIES: none
PUBLISHER: Roaring Brook Press
ISBN: 9781596434493
PAGES: 154
SOURCE: public library
GENRE: nonfiction
GIVE IT TO: middle and high school; adults

SUMMARY: Though the title implies a nonfiction book about the years of Prohibition, Bootleg lays out a thorough history of America’s love-hate relationship with alcohol, beginning centuries before Prohibition and ending with modern efforts to regulate alcohol and drugs.

REVIEW: I must admit: I am NOT a nonfiction reader and rarely read nonfiction for anything more than to gain information that I need for a specific and personal purpose. The only reason I picked up Bootleg at all was to preview it for our upcoming Spirit of Texas Middle School committee meeting in a few weeks. Bootleg has been nominated for this year’s list, and I need to be able to debate whether it should be included on the list.

I had planned to read only the first couple of chapters and skim the rest, just enough to be able to discuss the book’s inclusion or exclusion on the list. But when I sat down to read the first chapter, I was sucked into the story immediately. Bootleg reads less like a history textbook and more like a study of unique historical “characters” and a lesson in how history repeats itself.

Bootleg is intensely interesting and meticulously researched. I loved reading about important historical figures like Al Capone that I have heard of, but really knew little about. Blumenthal takes no sides on the prohibition issue; she simply weaves the facts into an interesting narrative that is never condescending or dull. Every page includes plenty of well-spaced photos and captions, and the chronological chapter divisions are logical. Index, glossary, and bibliography are appended.

USE IN SCHOOLS: Great for general browsing and classrooms. For history, English, and debate classes, Bootleg could foster lively discussions about Prohibition from differing viewpoints at different historical periods. Parallels to modern-day personal rights issues such as municipal smoking bans, legalizing marijuana, healthy school lunches, and limiting soda consumption in restaurants are difficult to miss. And I would love to listen to students compare Carrie Nation’s actions to those of modern-day terrorists.

THE BOTTOM LINE: A must for MS and HS libraries! Given student interest in gangsters like Al Capone and Bugs Moran, Bootleg will be easy to book talk with classes. Easy to read with short chapters and lots of photos, Bootleg is also great for reluctant readers.

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: On-order. Now that I have read it, I can easily talk up Bootleg with my students. I have no doubt this one will be a hit, particularly with my boys.

READALIKES: Six Days in October: The Stock Market Crash of 1929 (Blumenthal); The Prohibition Era: Temperance in the United States (Slavicek)


  • Overall: 5/5
  • Creativity: 5/5
  • Characters: 5/5–interesting study of historical figures that most students have never heard of
  • Engrossing: 5/5–I could barely put it down!
  • Writing: 5/5
  • Appeal to teens: 5/5
  • Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5


  • Language: none
  • Sexuality: very mild–A small, indistinct nude painting appears on the wall of a saloon in one photograph. Painting is also referenced in the photo caption.
  • Violence: mild-medium–gangster violence and murder; story of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
  • Drugs/Alcohol: high–This book is about Prohibition, gangsters, and crime. Alcohol, distilling, and bootlegging is central to the content. Contains early-1900s photos of children drinking and smoking cigarettes.

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