Books: Tangled Moralist

DRY MESSIAH (353 pp.)—Virginius Dabney—Knopf ($4).

Like most Methodist ministers at the turn of the century, Virginia's young (36) James Cannon Jr. was dedicated to the defeat of the Demon Rum. Gaunt and black-bearded, humorless and generally disliked, he licked alcohol by legislation in his native state (1914), did as much as any man to bring prohibition to the U.S. Like many of his contemporaries who believed that morality could be legislated, he periodically struck out at lesser demons. Dancing, tobacco, Coca-Cola and even football ("neither manly nor Christian") felt his indignant lash. But in 1930, this paragon of virtue, by then...

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