Sin in the Second City

Rarely do I get to the end of a book and wish that it had still more chapters. On the rare occasion when this does happen, the feeling usually passes quickly. When my longing for a book persists, I know I really liked the book.

By this measure (as well as any other), I loved the book Sin in the Second City. For weeks after I’d finished it, I found myself wishing I had a stack of books just like it waiting to be read. Congratulations to Karen Abbott on writing a fantastic first book.

I first discovered the book, believe it or not, on the Freakonomics blog! Unbeknownst to me, Melissa convinced Karen Abbott to do a Q&A with us. I read that Q&A and promptly bought the book on my next trip to the bookstore. My primary reason for reading it was “business,” since Sudhir Venkatesh and I are working on a project concerning modern-day street prostitutes in Chicago. As such, I thought it would be important to learn something about the city’s prostitution in an earlier age.

I had no idea that the story would be so scintillating, with an amazing cast of (real-life) characters. The heroes are Minna and Ada Everleigh, enterprising sisters who move to Chicago and start a brothel like none the planet has ever seen. Visitors are entertained by a pianist playing a piano made of gold that would cost hundreds of thousands in today’s dollars, while the prostitutes quote poetry and Greek. Their brothel, called the Everleigh Club, becomes a destination for not only the city’s finest men, but also visitors from around the globe. (If I understand it correctly, the phrase “to get laid” is a shortened version of the original saying “to get Everleighed.”)

One of the most famous prostitutes at the Club was the world-renowned Suzy Poon Tang (who gave life to the slang term, I believe) sporting her legendary tattoo. Corrupt local politicians included Bathhouse John Coughlin and “Hinky DinkKenna. On the other side, you had Minister Ernest Bell, who devoted his life to fighting prostitution and became a celebrity in the process. The fight between “good” and “evil” is one of the most interesting aspects of the story, especially because it is often unclear exactly who is on which side.

I don’t often endorse books, but this one is fantastic.


Sara

I'm reading this book right now and it's fantastic! I was so excited to see this posting today. Not just b/c you're endorsing such a great and fascinating read, but also I didn't know there had been a Q&A with the author in early August. My copy is from the library, but it's worth the price for anyone who can't otherwise find a copy.
For anyone interested in social economics, this read with The Jungle really highlights the different sides of Chicago, and why a woman would choose prostitution, especially at a more upscale brothel like the Everleigh Club.

Gary

I felt this way about freakonomics... where's our sequel?

DanC

>

I'm not sure if the word finest is accurate. Perhaps notable or prominent but finest is, in my opinion, inaccurate.

Karla

I, too, loved this book. I loved how she fleshes out the real-life characters. I felt like I was living in early 20th century Chicago, and I was so sad to hear that the buildings the Everleigh sisters owned are no longer in existence.

I wonder if anyone has the golden piano, though...

Siobhan

Karen Abbott has mastered the skill of telling the truth so exquisitely that it sounds better than fable. Sin in the Second City is irresistible!

Ferdinand E. Banks

Funny, Steve, how you get so many things wrong. I hope that you do better in the classroom.

When I was going to Illinois Tech, I occasionally jogged down the lakefront from X to the Midway. There were almost always 'business women' in the vicinity of X, mostly holding court in the evening at a great jazz venue, and also at the other end fairly close to the Midway. As for Suzy P.T., a filippino sergeant in an infantry company that I was in was called Sergeant P.T. by the white soldiers in the company, especially white soldiers from the south. He was outraged, but couldn't do anything about it, and according to those young southern gentlemen the origin of the expression was strictly racist and had nothing to do with Ms Suzy or anybody else north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Scarfish

I read this book earlier this year, and also loved it for all the same reasons you list. I've recommended it many times, and followed it up with Devil in the White City, although that takes place about a decade earlier.

Karen

To Ferdinand: Suzy Poon Tang came to Chicago from China.

Jo

I run a nonfiction book group, and this is our title for December. I have read this book once already and loved it! I have always been fascinated by Chicago's history, and this deliciously written book covers an especially fascinating pair of characters in Chicago's already colorful past!

ines bosworth

The book might have had interesting content, but it's not in the least well written. For starters, she never defines the term "levee." Many sentences with the start of an idea are not developed. Additionally, it reads like a tabloid and not like a well researched (let's not even say scholarly) work. Most sentences have the breathy quality you associate with teen-age diaries. Photos are not dated or sourced.

Not worth it, in my opinion.

P Fox

I have to agree with Ines Bosworth 100%. I had high expectations for this book but I think Abbot comes up short despite the subject matter with her writing style and lack of scholarly approach.

Heather J

This book was actually assigned for my history class in college. I have just finished it, and must say that I enjoyed it immensely. Now, I am to write a five page paper on it. So far my thesis is how sin and corruption go hand-in-hand as an effect of the progressive era. I will also be writing about how Chicago was the known capital for sin, and is still widely known for that to this day.

Sara

I'm reading this book right now and it's fantastic! I was so excited to see this posting today. Not just b/c you're endorsing such a great and fascinating read, but also I didn't know there had been a Q&A with the author in early August. My copy is from the library, but it's worth the price for anyone who can't otherwise find a copy.
For anyone interested in social economics, this read with The Jungle really highlights the different sides of Chicago, and why a woman would choose prostitution, especially at a more upscale brothel like the Everleigh Club.

Gary

I felt this way about freakonomics... where's our sequel?

DanC

>

I'm not sure if the word finest is accurate. Perhaps notable or prominent but finest is, in my opinion, inaccurate.

Karla

I, too, loved this book. I loved how she fleshes out the real-life characters. I felt like I was living in early 20th century Chicago, and I was so sad to hear that the buildings the Everleigh sisters owned are no longer in existence.

I wonder if anyone has the golden piano, though...

Siobhan

Karen Abbott has mastered the skill of telling the truth so exquisitely that it sounds better than fable. Sin in the Second City is irresistible!

Ferdinand E. Banks

Funny, Steve, how you get so many things wrong. I hope that you do better in the classroom.

When I was going to Illinois Tech, I occasionally jogged down the lakefront from X to the Midway. There were almost always 'business women' in the vicinity of X, mostly holding court in the evening at a great jazz venue, and also at the other end fairly close to the Midway. As for Suzy P.T., a filippino sergeant in an infantry company that I was in was called Sergeant P.T. by the white soldiers in the company, especially white soldiers from the south. He was outraged, but couldn't do anything about it, and according to those young southern gentlemen the origin of the expression was strictly racist and had nothing to do with Ms Suzy or anybody else north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Scarfish

I read this book earlier this year, and also loved it for all the same reasons you list. I've recommended it many times, and followed it up with Devil in the White City, although that takes place about a decade earlier.

Karen

To Ferdinand: Suzy Poon Tang came to Chicago from China.