Some time ago, historian and journalist Daniel Okrent ran into Ken Burns, the renowned documentary maker. Burns had long urged Okrent to make a film with him. Okrent, a wordsmith and not a film guy, had consistently declined.

And, at this meeting, Okrent was busy with his own project: a history of Prohibition to be published eventually as the book "Last Call."

Upon hearing Okrent's topic, Burns -- according to Okrent -- declared, "That's it. That's our film."

Well, it was and it wasn't. Burns and frequent collaborator Lynn Novick did go on to make the three-part, 5 1/2-hour documentary series "Prohibition," airing at 8 p.m. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday on PBS. Okrent, who appears in "Prohibition," nonetheless focused on "Last Call." Still, Okrent notes in his book, "the exchange of ideas, research and sources enhanced both projects to such a degree that they can be considered first cousins." I recommend them both.

There is more than enough material in the story of Prohibition -- the banning of the sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States from 1920 to 1933 -- to make both the book and the TV production engage the audience. As with Okrent's book, the film's story begins long before Prohibition actually took effect, to chart the role alcohol played in American life. Indeed, the effect of alcohol on the nation as a whole is implicit in the titles of Prohibition's three parts: "A Nation of Drunkards," "A Nation of Scofflaws" and, most tellingly, the concluding "A Nation of Hypocrites."

As Burns and Novick show, the issue of alcohol blended into debates over feminism, immigration, the conflicts between urban and rural populations and even World War I. (Beer companies run by families of German descent prompted some to equate beer drinking with treason.)

And that just gets you through the first episode, which ends with the onset of Prohibition.

Of course, it proved to be a national disaster, yielding a law that was not well enforced, a public looking for ways to get around it, the money flow into criminal organizations and the increase in drinking by women (long denied admittance to saloons in the legal-drink days) and an even more widespread acceptance of drinking as fashionable and glamorous.

"Prohibition" has a terrific story. It is well told through the customary Burns-Novick blend of archival photos, historians' comments and voiceovers by prominent actors (including narration by Peter Coyote). Give it, and Okrent's book, a look.