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

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3.58 of 5 stars 3.58  ·  rating details  ·  8,004 ratings  ·  1,011 reviews
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, foreig ...more
paperback, 356 pages
Published 2008 by Random House (first published January 1st 2007)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Desiree Koh
Jan 05, 2008 Desiree Koh rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: puritans
Shelves: ohmychicago
As a general rule of thumb, I like all books about Chicago history because there's really no way to go wrong with tales about our city. So I'd been wanting to read this book since it was released, and finally, my most excellent book club the Literary Brats got down to it.

So I also think you'd really have to screw up to write a bad book about Chicago history. This book is about professional screwing and Karen Abbott is some screwball kinda writer. How difficult is it to write a great book about s
...more
Alice
"I want to stress that this is a work of nonfiction; every character I describe lived and breathed, if not necessarily thrived, on the Levee's mean streets," writes author Karen Abbott in her introduction.

What immediately bothered me about the book, though, was the extent to which Karen Abbott took liberties to 'fictionalize' her non-fiction, adding window-dressing and drapery to an already rich tapestry of research material.

Take this section, for instance:

"'It's going to be difficult, at first,
...more
Madeline
"In the winter of 1899, a train clattered toward Chicago, fat coils of smoke whipping the sky. Minna and Ada Everleigh sat together in a Pullman Palace car, sipping wine served by porters in white jackets and gloves. ...The air inside the car hung heavy and whisper-quiet, but the sisters were restless, giddy with plans: they would build upon what they had learned as madams in Omaha, Nebraska, and create the finest brothel in history."

Man, who doesn't love a good old-timey hooker story? Karen Abb
...more
Scott Rhee
It's hard to believe that there was a time in American history where many of the major cities not only had open brothels but whole districts devoted to them.

Prostitution was a business, and a flourishing one at that. One brothel in particular, the Everleigh Club in Chicago during the turn of the century, is the fascinating subject of Karen Abbot's book, "Sin in the Second City".

The Everleigh sisters, Minna and Ada, were the famous madams of this brothel. It was so well-known and popular that t
...more
Pamela W
May 04, 2008 Pamela W rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Kir, Adele, even that hooker-lover Otis if she could bother to create a goodreads acct
Shelves: mymap
3.5 stars. Hookers, graft and corruption in early 1900s Chicago - - you had me at hookers. This felt similar to "Devil in the White City" except no serial killer (sorry killer-lovers) just the political and religious battles surrounding prostitution. Sounds like Chicago was hella more interesting back in the day, although yes, stinkier/dirtier and disease-riddled, and likely more prone to disfiguring industrial-type accidents. Still, I'd go back in my time capsule to check it out, and I would de ...more
Pete
Abbott's book is an entertaining enough read, and has plenty of interesting tidbits of Chicago history, but is nothing spectacular. It's interesting to me how open prostitution was in the not-so-distant past, and one has to wonder if the current condition is an improvement. I was walking on Lower Wacker the other day, and there were some miserable looking hookers. It was dark and dank and depressing. Considering our apparent inability to abolish the oldest profession, I wonder: is the false glam ...more
Keri
Jan 01, 2008 Keri rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who loved Devil in the White City
Shelves: recentlyread
I absolutely loved this book. I found it in my local library by chance and I'm glad I did. I love historical books about Chicago. Sin in the Second City has much in common with Devil in the White City as it takes place roughly during the same time period in Chicago (around 1900).

Although the subject matter may turn some people off, I loved learning about the history of prostitution in Chicago. It was surprising to discover that this is a true story. Maybe it is naive of me but I kept having to
...more
Jessi
The captivating story of sisters Ada and Minna Everleigh and their world-famous Everleigh Club, the classiest brothel in Chicago at the turn of the century. Abbott clearly did her homework and does a super job of fleshing out the main characters against the background of the Victorian socio-political climate. As we already know, the crazy preachers won the political game in the end. They managed to blow up a destructive storm of tall tales on "white slavery" to enrage the terrified conservative ...more
Donna
Oh I wanted this book to be so much more than it was. The story of the Everleigh sisters, along with Bathhouse John and Hinky Dick, is such a colorful one in the City of Chicago. Yet this book makes it almost (not quite) boring. Too much jumping around in time and storylines. It just didn't come together.

If the data is so limited, this story could easily have been fictionalized and made really, really readable and exciting. Just because something is fiction does not mean it doesn't contain the
...more
Allyson
I had to read this for my bookgroup, so it wasn't my choice. I got about 150 pages in and 'took a break'. The book is due back to the library on Thursday and I really doubt I'll be back to it before then. BORING. You would think a book about whore houses would be an interesting read! Snoozefest 2008.
Kate
Abbott describes the rise and fall of an incredibly luxe 'house of ill repute' in Chicago between 1900 and 1912 or so. Called the Everleigh Club, it was run by a pair of fabulist sisters who apparently believed in treating everyone well and in sumptuous decoration. They were shut down after reformers put pressure on the government to clean up Chicago's red light district, so they changed their names a few more times and retired with their millions to New York.

Fun fact: Apparently the phrase 'ge
...more
Corbin
I picked up this book after wandering around the bookstore for an hour looking for the perfect non-fiction read and I sure did pick up the right one! I think what makes this book interesting (and adds to the historic legitimacy) is that Abbott is able to connect the story to famous characters in history. Certainly, we can all believe that Jack Johnson visited the Everleigh Club, but did you know the mysterious connection to Marshall Field Jr, the heir to that now-nonexistent department store, Ma ...more
M.L. Rudolph
2007. Who couldn't be drawn to a lurid title above a come hither photo of a madam reclining on a lounge chair in black lace nighty and high heels? In early Chicago no less.

Yes, the most famous bordello in the country operated for about twelve years prior to WWI on the Levee, a district in The First Ward on South Dearborn Street. Run by the Everleigh (dba) sisters, The Everleigh Club famously treated its ladies and its clients like stars, unlike the other clubs which were mere clip joints with r
...more
Kerrie
3.5 stars

This was a fun, entertaining read about the vile fleshpot of Chicago at the turn of the century. The Everleigh sisters Ada and Minna (born Simms), an entrepreneurial duo, settled on Chicago as the best place to set up a high-class whorehouse since it was lacking such an elite club with an untapped rich clientele. They treated their girls well - regular doctor visits to check for and treat STDs, no beatings, etc. In return, they demanded no rolling of clients for money and no drugs and f
...more
Martin
In “Sin in the Second City” Karen Abbott tells us in her subtitle that the book is ultimately about “the Battle for America's Soul.” Pretty heady! I suppose that the battle still persists to this day, so I shouldn’t have expected a victor in the book itself, yet was left feeling unsatisfied at not even having a side to root for. Abbott seemingly couldn’t decide if she was writing a slice-of-life about Chicago’s vice district at the turn of the century, a profile of two successful sisters running ...more
Tina Thompson
I lived in Chicago for several years so it was nice to see some of the pictures, especially since the locale of the infamous Everleigh Club now contains a couple of high-rise, public housing projects. The area is undergoing development lately with nice condos and apartments mingled closely to the high-rises. I like historical accounts of the miscreants of society, and this was pretty good. The two sisters trying to bring some "respect" to the world's oldest profession - it almost made you see th ...more
bibliogrrl
Mar 22, 2007 bibliogrrl rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: EVERONE
If you like books about Chicago, especially if you liked Devil in the White City, you will LOVE THIS BOOK.

I'm a sucker for books about my hometown, but this book has the added spice of being about the cities premier cathouse at the turn of the century. How can you not love that?

I'm basically going to force every person I know to read this book when it comes out this summer. It's a great read... non-fiction that reads like the best potboiler novel you could imagine.
Jennifer
Freaking awesome.

Did you know that Chicago was the prostitute capital of the US? I didn't. And did you know where the term "Poon Tang" came from? I didn't.

But I do now!

Fabulous. Fabulously fabulous. And all true. And not salacious. HISTORICAL. So it is like you are being edified WHILE you are learning about hookers.
Susan
Read Balzac with Suzy Poon Tang as you tour the best and worst of 19th century Chicago brothels, from a safe distance. Entertaining.
Bill
This was an interesting read, full of insight into the life of working girls in the early 1900s. Parallels are easy to draw between then and today, both culturally and morally, and Chicago is what it is - vibrant, bustling and corrupt.
This book is perhaps more compelling to those with a fancy for history and American politics. It's also interesting to note how the Everleigh club, which recruited instead of enslaving, paid girls a comfortable wage for the day, got them regular medical check-ups a
...more
Steven Peterson
Who might imagine that a book about Chicago's bordellos at the turn of the century (late 1890s and early 1900s) could be so fascinating! This book, in the first instance, is an interesting portrayal of how two madams, Minna and Ada "Everleigh" (their last name made up for the occasion) ran a bordello that was much higher class than the other sordid businesses surrounding them in the "Levee," a section of the First Ward in Chicago.

It is also a story of the politics, economics, and culture of Chi
...more
Mitch
I thought "Sin in the Second City" was a awesome chunk of American history. Chicago is one of my favourite cities to visit and I find that Chicago is just overflowing with interesting tidbits of history. People say this book is similar to the style of "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson, but I must say I found "Sin in the Second City" MUCH MUCH MUCH more enthralling and interesting.

I can honestly say I have never read a book about brothels and prostitues but I'm glad I did! This book di
...more
Monique
Sep 01, 2009 Monique rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: non-prudes
Recommended to Monique by: Bookclub
OK, I'm amazed at how much I enjoyed this book. So much incredible detail (some of it pretty raw, but interesting nonetheless) on the lives of prostitutes at the turn of the century (the previous century). This book is so well researched and detailed. Based on author Karen Abbottt's descriptions, you can really picture the people who populate the book: the harlots, the madams, the ward bosses, the career politicians and prosecutors, and the religious zealots who make up the cast of (real life) c ...more
Lisa
Nov 25, 2008 Lisa rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Joy
Shelves: non-fiction
Abbott traces the history of Chicago's most famous (and most posh) brothel at the turn of the century, and the religious and social crusaders who worked tirelessly to try to end prostitution.

The two Everleigh sisters created their own last name, backgrounds, and ages (declaring themselves a decade younger), and moved to Chicago to start up a high-class brothel. Unlike the existing brothels, their whores would come to them, be educated and refined, and make good money.

At the same time, reformer
...more
Siria
This is a pretty entertaining, if somewhat shallow, slice of pop history which derives much of its verve from its vivid subject matter: the Everleigh Club, an exclusive, world-famous brothel founded in fin de siècle Chicago, populated by Balzac-quoting prostitutes and run by sisters Minna and Ada. Sin and the Second City covers the club's foundation, its rise to notoriety, its ongoing battle with reformers and religious campaigners, and its eventual closure, and it rattles along at a breezy pace ...more
Sharon
Sep 06, 2007 Sharon rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs, would be madams
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was a real page turner, and a fascinating and well researched snapshot of Chicago history. The writing is excellent and reads like fiction through much of the book. I loved reading the descriptions of the brothels and the daily life of their inhabitants, particularly what set the Everleigh club apart from lower institutions. I did feel that the events and and the more minor players were underdeveloped at times, which made some of the people hard to track and remember. The first half wa ...more
Sara
I love Chicago and I love history. Where the seamy underbelly of the city meets history is pure, non-fitcion gold to me. For the same reasons that I like Devil in the White City and the excellent book about the Family Secrets mob trial, I liked this book. Well researched, reads quickly and like a fantastic, tawdry story. The two sister madams of Dearborn street are unreal. Ruling the Levee district 100 years ago and yet it reads like a newspaper today. You couldn't make up characters that great. ...more
Kathleen
Had the potential to be great but, despite the topic, wasn't all that interesting. This book read like a text book --- I plodded through it because it was for book club --- but it most definitely was not enjoyable. I would have liked more personalized stories about the Everleigh sisters and their "butterflies". What I got instead were a bunch of overwrought details about Chicago politicians and crusaders. B-O-R-I-N-G! Had this author taken a clue from Erik Larson, author of Devil In the White Ci ...more
Bonnie G
I love books about Chicago because I can picture the places so well, even though these places were set 100 years ago and I have never walked in a red light district! She includes lots and lots of detail, like a good historian, but it slows down the pace quite a bit. Anyway, she chose two fascinating women to follow through the history of the red light (Levee) district. As I was reading this, the slimey governor of Illinois made the news. Some things apparently never change, as this book outlines ...more
Rory
Sep 17, 2007 Rory rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: book clubs
I waited forever for this book on my library's hold list, but it's really just not that great. The author is obviously following the "Devil in the White City" structure of building up two separate-but-entwined stories: of "good" creation and "evil" destruction.

But her story isn't as powerful or frightening, nor does the reader get as wide or fascinating a history of Chicago in the meanwhile.

And I'm in the middle of the book and there's been no graphic sex tales! Dude, this is about a famous br
...more
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19683
Karen Abbott's latest book, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is a true story of four daring (and not entirely scrupulous) Civil War spies who risked everything for their cause. The new book will be published by HarperCollins on September 2, 2014. Abbott's previous books, Sin in the Second City and American Rose, were both New York Times bestsellers. Abbott is a featured contributor to Smithsonian mag ...more
More about Karen Abbott...
American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War A Father for Daisy A Most Rebellious Debutante Take Hold of Tomorrow

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