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Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul

by

Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul Cover

 

Staff Pick

Take one bordello. Muddle it with a bit of turn-of-the-century Chicago. Add a few characters to the mix, including the Everleigh sisters, John Barrymore, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., William Howard Taft, and Al Capone, and you serve up quite a cocktail. This exhaustively researched and breezily styled book about sex, sin, and salvation is my pick for a rollicking good summer read.
Recommended by Chandler, Powells.com

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Step into the perfumed parlors of the Everleigh Club, the most famous brothel in American history — and the catalyst for a culture war that rocked the nation. Operating in Chicago's notorious Levee district at the dawn of the last century, the Club's proprietors, two aristocratic sisters named Minna and Ada Everleigh, welcomed moguls and actors, senators and athletes, foreign dignitaries and literary icons, into their stately double mansion, where thirty stunning Everleigh "butterflies" awaited their arrival. Courtesans named Doll, Suzy Poon Tang, and Brick Top devoured raw meat to the delight of Prince Henry of Prussia and recited poetry for Theodore Dreiser. Whereas lesser madams pocketed most of a harlot's earnings and kept a "whipper" on staff to mete out discipline, the Everleighs made sure their girls dined on gourmet food, were examined by an honest physician, and even tutored in the literature of Balzac.

Not everyone appreciated the sisters' attempts to elevate the industry. Rival Levee madams hatched numerous schemes to ruin the Everleighs, including an attempt to frame them for the death of department store heir Marshall Field, Jr. But the sisters' most daunting foes were the Progressive Era reformers, who sent the entire country into a frenzy with lurid tales of white slavery — the allegedly rampant practice of kidnapping young girls and forcing them into brothels. This furor shaped America's sexual culture and had repercussions all the way to the White House, including the formation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

With a cast of characters that includes JackJohnson, John Barrymore, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., William Howard Taft, "Hinky Dink" Kenna, and Al Capone, Sin in the Second City is Karen Abbott's colorful, nuanced portrait of the iconic Everleigh sisters, their world-famous Club, and the perennial clash between our nation's hedonistic impulses and Puritanical roots. Culminating in a dramatic last stand between brothel keepers and crusading reformers, Sin in the Second City offers a vivid snapshot of America's journey from Victorian-era propriety to twentieth-century modernity.

Review:

"Freelance journalist Abbott's vibrant first book probes the titillating milieu of the posh, world-famous Everleigh Club brothel that operated from 1900 to 1911 on Chicago's Near South Side. The madams, Ada and Minna Everleigh, were sisters whose shifting identities had them as traveling actors, Edgar Allan Poe's relatives, Kentucky debutantes fleeing violent husbands and daughters of a once-wealthy Virginia lawyer crushed by the Civil War. While lesser whorehouses specialized in deflowering virgins, beatings and bondage, the Everleighs spoiled their whores with couture gowns, gourmet meals and extraordinary salaries. The bordello — which boasted three stringed orchestras and a room of 1,000 mirrors — attracted such patrons as Theodore Dreiser, John Barrymore and Prussian Prince Henry. But the successful cathouse was implicated in the 1905 shooting of department store heir Marshall Field Jr. and inevitably became the target of rivals and reformers alike. Madam Vic Shaw tried to frame the Everleighs for a millionaire playboy's drug overdose, Rev. Ernest Bell preached nightly outside the club and ambitious Chicago state's attorney Clifford Roe built his career on the promise of obliterating white slavery. With colorful characters, this is an entertaining, well-researched slice of Windy City history. Photos. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"Probably the most famous whorehouse in America's history — OK, it's a dubious distinction at best, but it's a distinction all the same — was the Everleigh Club of Chicago, which did business in that city's tenderloin, the Levee district, for the first decade of the 20th century. It was run by a couple of sisters from rural Virginia, Minna and Ada Simms, who changed their name to Everly and then... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Review:

"With gleaming prose and authoritative knowledge Abbott elucidates one of the most colorful periods in American history, and the result reads like the very best fiction. Sex, opulence, murder — what's not to love?" Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants

Review:

"A detailed and intimate portrait of the Ritz of brothels, the famed Everleigh Club of turn-of-the-century Chicago. Sisters Minna and Ada attracted the elites of the world to such glamorous chambers as the Room of 1,000 Mirrors, complete with a reflective floor. And isn't Minna's advice to her resident prostitutes worthy advice for us all: "Give, but give interestingly and with mystery." Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City

Review:

"Karen Abbott has combined bodice-ripping salaciousness with top-notch scholarship to produce a work more vivid than a Hollywood movie." Melissa Fay Greene, author of There is No Me Without You

Review:

"Sin in the Second City is a masterful history lesson, a harrowing biography, and — best of all — a superfun read. The Everleigh story closely follows the turns of American history like a little sister. I can't recommend this book loudly enough." Darin Strauss, author of Chang and Eng

Review:

"This is a story of debauchery and corruption, but it is also a story of sisterhood, and unerring devotion. Meticulously researched, and beautifully crafted, Sin in the Second City is an utterly captivating piece of history." Julian Rubinstein, author of Ballad of the Whiskey Robber

Review:

"[D]elicious and exhaustively researched." Chicago Sun-Times

Review:

"Abbott's character sketches of individuals...make this engaging study read like a novel." Library Journal

About the Author

Karen Abbott worked as a journalist on the staffs of Philadelphia magazine and Philadelphia Weekly, and has written for Salon.com and other publications. A native of Philadelphia, she now lives with her husband in Atlanta, where she's at work on her next book. Visit her online at sininthesecondcity.com.

What Our Readers Are Saying

Add a comment for a chance to win!
Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Christin, August 19, 2012 (view all comments by Christin)
Fun, fascinating peek into a colorful and eventful period of Chicago's past. Far from the dry kind of "this happened, then this happened, then this person got involved" history books many are used to, this is a vivid, engaging, and easy to read tale that pulls you right in. Great book!
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
christopher.horne, February 23, 2009 (view all comments by christopher.horne)
Sin in the Second City is my favorite kind of non-fiction---a meticulously researched and multi-layered sliver of history that reads like a fast-paced and exciting novel. My favorite thing about the book is the balanced coverage given to all the sides in this complicated culture war. Abbott turns a discerning eye on the reformers and their separate motivations---some driven by faith, some by ego, and some by ambition, and mirrors those motivations in the layered characters of the madams and politicos.

The writing is stellar, the time period fascinating, the details are sumptuous---I couldn't put this book down, and I know I will be rereading it. I can't recommend this book strongly enough.
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(10 of 13 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780812975994
Subtitle:
Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul
Author:
Abbott, Karen
Publisher:
Random House Trade Paperbacks
Subject:
United States - 20th Century (1900-1945)
Subject:
United States - State & Local - Midwest
Subject:
Human Sexuality
Subject:
Prostitution
Subject:
Illinois
Subject:
Prostitution -- Illinois -- Chicago.
Subject:
Brothels - Illinois - Chicago
Subject:
General History
Subject:
World History-General
Subject:
United States - 20th Century
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20080610
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
CHAPTER-OPENING ILLUSTRATIONS
Pages:
400
Dimensions:
8.02x5.22x.86 in. .64 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Featured Titles » History and Social Science
Health and Self-Help » Psychology » General
History and Social Science » Americana » Illinois
History and Social Science » Americana » Midwest
History and Social Science » US History » 20th Century » General
History and Social Science » World History » General

Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.95 In Stock
Product details 400 pages Random House Trade - English 9780812975994 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Take one bordello. Muddle it with a bit of turn-of-the-century Chicago. Add a few characters to the mix, including the Everleigh sisters, John Barrymore, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., William Howard Taft, and Al Capone, and you serve up quite a cocktail. This exhaustively researched and breezily styled book about sex, sin, and salvation is my pick for a rollicking good summer read.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Freelance journalist Abbott's vibrant first book probes the titillating milieu of the posh, world-famous Everleigh Club brothel that operated from 1900 to 1911 on Chicago's Near South Side. The madams, Ada and Minna Everleigh, were sisters whose shifting identities had them as traveling actors, Edgar Allan Poe's relatives, Kentucky debutantes fleeing violent husbands and daughters of a once-wealthy Virginia lawyer crushed by the Civil War. While lesser whorehouses specialized in deflowering virgins, beatings and bondage, the Everleighs spoiled their whores with couture gowns, gourmet meals and extraordinary salaries. The bordello — which boasted three stringed orchestras and a room of 1,000 mirrors — attracted such patrons as Theodore Dreiser, John Barrymore and Prussian Prince Henry. But the successful cathouse was implicated in the 1905 shooting of department store heir Marshall Field Jr. and inevitably became the target of rivals and reformers alike. Madam Vic Shaw tried to frame the Everleighs for a millionaire playboy's drug overdose, Rev. Ernest Bell preached nightly outside the club and ambitious Chicago state's attorney Clifford Roe built his career on the promise of obliterating white slavery. With colorful characters, this is an entertaining, well-researched slice of Windy City history. Photos. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "With gleaming prose and authoritative knowledge Abbott elucidates one of the most colorful periods in American history, and the result reads like the very best fiction. Sex, opulence, murder — what's not to love?"
"Review" by , "A detailed and intimate portrait of the Ritz of brothels, the famed Everleigh Club of turn-of-the-century Chicago. Sisters Minna and Ada attracted the elites of the world to such glamorous chambers as the Room of 1,000 Mirrors, complete with a reflective floor. And isn't Minna's advice to her resident prostitutes worthy advice for us all: "Give, but give interestingly and with mystery."
"Review" by , "Karen Abbott has combined bodice-ripping salaciousness with top-notch scholarship to produce a work more vivid than a Hollywood movie."
"Review" by , "Sin in the Second City is a masterful history lesson, a harrowing biography, and — best of all — a superfun read. The Everleigh story closely follows the turns of American history like a little sister. I can't recommend this book loudly enough."
"Review" by , "This is a story of debauchery and corruption, but it is also a story of sisterhood, and unerring devotion. Meticulously researched, and beautifully crafted, Sin in the Second City is an utterly captivating piece of history."
"Review" by , "[D]elicious and exhaustively researched."
"Review" by , "Abbott's character sketches of individuals...make this engaging study read like a novel."
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