Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review: Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott

✰✰✰½ Take a trip back in time to the early 1900s and step into the perfumed parlors of the Everleigh Club. Author Karen Abbott takes the reader on a tour Chicago's notorious Levee, a vice district which featured "sporting clubs" for every interest. The Everleigh Club was the most famous and expensive brothel of it's time, and entertainers, royalty, sports icons, and politicians came from all over to sample it's delicacies.

The club was owned by sisters Minna and Ada Everleigh, as they called themselves. The sisters came to Chicago with grand plans and aspired to elevate the industry of prostitution. Their girls, or butterflies as they were known, received health care and a salary. The girls were even tutored in literature and could converse on any topic. The business savvy Everleigh sisters were way ahead of their time.

However, this book is not just about the infamous sisters and their brothel. Abbot explores the role of the Progressive Era reformers in shaping the sexual culture of America at the turn of the century. As the reformers lead by Reverend Bell gained momentum, the sisters always managed to stay just one step ahead of trouble. Nevertheless, their reign ended in 1911 when there was a crackdown on the red-light district, and Chicago was changed forever.

The Bottom Line: Author Karen Abbott invites the reader to take a look behind the scenes at the world-famous club and the women who thrived there. With money, sex, and murder, you're sure to be entertained by Sin in the Second City. With a cast of characters that includes "Hinky Dink" Kenna, Bathhouse John Coughlin, Madam Vic Shaw, Reverend Ernest Bell, and Chicago Assistant State's Attorney Clifford Roe, you can't go wrong. This is a nonfiction book that reads like fiction. It is filled with anecdotes and features a fascinating look at brothels and the Progressive Era at the turn of the 20th century. Recommended for history buffs and those interested in Chicago's underworld.

Details: Sin in the Second City: Madams, Gangsters, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul by Karen Abbott. Hardcover published by Random House in 2007. 384 p. ISBN: 978-1-4000-6530-1

For more information, you can visit Karen Abbot's website or the Encyclopedia of Chicago.

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