Synopses & Reviews
When young Theodore Roosevelt was appointed police commissioner of New York City, he had the astounding gall to try to shut down the brothels, gambling joints, and after-hours saloons. This is the story of how TR took on Manhattan vice . . . and vice won.
In the 1890s, New York City was America’s financial, manufacturing, and entertainment capital, and also its preferred destination for sin, teeming with forty thousand prostitutes, glittery casinos, and all-night dives. Police captains took hefty bribes to see nothing while reformers writhed in frustration.
In Island of Vice, Richard Zacks paints a vivid portrait of the lewd underbelly of 1890s New York, and of Theodore Roosevelt, the puritanical, cocksure police commissioner resolved to clean it up. Writing with great wit and zest, Zacks explores how young Roosevelt goes head to head with Tammany Hall, takes midnight rambles with muckraker Jacob Riis, and tries to convince two million New Yorkers to enjoy wholesome family fun. When Roosevelt’s crackdown succeeds too well, even his supporters turn on him, and TR discovers that New York loves its sin more than its salvation.
With cameos by Stephen Crane, Mark Twain, and a horde of very angry cops, Island of Vice is an unforgettable snapshot of turn-of-the-century New York in all its seedy glory and a brilliant miniature of one of America’s most colorful presidents.
In the 1890s, young cocksure Theodore Roosevelt, years before the White House, was appointed police commissioner of corrupt, pleasure-loving New York, then teeming with 40,000 prostitutes, illegal casinos and all-night dance halls. The Harvard-educated Roosevelt, with a reformer’s zeal, tried to wipe out the city’s vice and corruption. He went head-to-head with Tammany Hall, took midnight rambles looking for derelict cops, banned barroom drinking on Sundays and tried to convince 2 million New Yorkers to enjoy wholesome family fun.
The city rebelled big time; cartoonists lampooned him on the front page; his own political party abandoned him but Roosevelt never backed down. Island of Vice delivers a rollicking narrative history of Roosevelt’s embattled tenure, pitting the seedy against the saintly, and the city against its would-be savior.
About the Author
Richard Zacks got his book-writing start specializing in lewd and offbeat history. His An Underground Education and History Laid Bare are classics of their kind. More recently, he is the author of The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd, chosen by Time in 2002 as one of the five best nonfiction books of the year; and The Pirate Coast (2005). His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, Time, Life, Harper’s, Sports Illustrated, Village Voice, and other publications. He writes in a small office overlooking Union Square in New York City.