Win the Audiobook of Island of Vice on CD!

Island of Vice Audiobook

It’s Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Doomed Quest to Clean up Sin-Loving New York, out from Random House Audio. The book is by Richard Zacks and read by Joe Ochman. Here’s what they have to say for themselves:

New York in the 1890s was the financial, industrial, and entertainment capital of America. Famous business titans like J. P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt built their wealth there. More than 12,000 factories employed half a million workers churning out goods from luxurious furs to cheap clocks. On any given night, New Yorkers could choose from hundreds of live entertainment shows, from the Metropolitan Opera to low-end vaudeville shows. But what the guidebooks never admitted–yet everybody knew–was that New York was also the capital of vice, with 40,000 prostitutes clamoring for clients, widespread gambling, and crime rings. And one man was determined to bring them down.

In his captivating narrative history, 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. The New York City of his day was teeming with brothels, casinos and alleyway dice games, and sleazy saloons. The police generally turned a blind eye to the squalor or even participated in it; those officers who threatened to arrest crime lords and prostitutes could usually be bribed into silence. But in 1894, a growing reform movement, fed up with the rampant crime and police complicity, succeeded in putting a new mayor in office, who vowed to purge and purify Sin City. He needed someone young, incorruptible, moralistic, and very loud for the job: Theodore Roosevelt.

With great wit and zest, Zacks explores how Roosevelt–not yet the Bull Moose he would one day become–set out to conquer vice in New York City. He goes head-to-head with the political bosses of Tammany Hall, takes midnight rambles with muckracker Jacob Riis to uncover Manhattan’s wicked side, bans drinking on Sundays, and starts putting corrupt and inept cops on trial. His ultimate enemy is police captain Big Bill Devery, who represents everything that is wrong with New York’s government and law enforcement, and Roosevelt is determined to bring him to justice. But as anger at the reforms mounts from both enemies and supporters, Roosevelt quickly realizes that New York City loves its sin as stubbornly as he rails against it. After only two years on the job, he weakly declares victory and steps down to save face. In an amusingly ironic twist, New York names Big Bill Devery police commissioner as soon as Roosevelt leaves.

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