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

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  11,204 ratings  ·  1,239 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
Hardcover, 356 pages
Published July 10th 2007 by Random House
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3.62  · 
Rating details
 ·  11,204 ratings  ·  1,239 reviews

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Nenia ✨ Queen of Literary Trash, Protector of Out-of-Print Gems, Khaleesi of Bodice Rippers, Mother of Smut, the Unrepentant, Breaker of Convention ✨ Campbell

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Get ready to clutch your pearls, because this tawdry piece of history is something you didn't learn in high school. SIN IN THE SECOND CITY, in case its title wasn't warning enough, is about prostitution in turn-of-the-century Chicago, specifically the Everleigh Club, which was a brothel run by two gently-bred sisters, Minna and Aida Everleigh.

One of the criticisms of this book is that the author, Karen Abbott, takes a lot of liberties with
Desiree Koh
Jan 05, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Feb 13, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2008
"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,
Jan 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
"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
BAM The Bibliomaniac
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read the author's Liar, Temptress, Soldier,Spy and really enjoyed the historical profiles. So when I saw this at a book sale I snapped it up.
A decadent exploration of the seedy side of 1890s Chicago, Sin in the Second City delves in to the Mann Act, white slavery reformers and the puerile highlights of life in a den of inequity. The Everleigh sisters ran the most popular "men's club" in the country, spending $100,000 in protection money to the city to keep their racket going. They had the pre
Scott Rhee
Jan 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, nonfiction
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
Oct 20, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
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
Jan 11, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2008books
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
Jan 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Pamela W
Apr 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Kimba Tichenor
Karen Abbott offers a popular history of perhaps the most famous "sporting house" in Chicago -- The Everleigh Club. It is a fun read; however the lack of footnotes makes it of limited value for academics (The book does include a bibliography at the end). Some readers may also be put off by the sensationalist approach of the author, which hardly seemed necessary given the topic. Still it covers a topic that most history books leave uncovered in an entertaining manner.
Aug 19, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2007, usa
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
Aug 08, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
Jul 20, 2008 rated it it was ok
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.
Dec 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Corbin Dodge
Dec 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
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
Feb 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Tina Thompson
Jun 10, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Mar 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Mark Hartzer
Jan 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
A nice slice of Chicago history. For example, I was unaware there really was a person named "Susie Poontang". Lots of other interesting tidbits. Not crazy about some of the imagined dialogue, but a fun read nonetheless.
May 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
I learned a lot from this book, like where the term "getting laid" comes from and some other important sayings. I also always enjoy being reminded that there is no such thing as the good old days and people have always been awful, they just smelled worse.
Susan (the other Susan)
Mar 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Read Balzac with Suzy Poon Tang as you tour the best and worst of 19th century Chicago brothels, from a safe distance. Entertaining.
Steven Peterson
Jul 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
M.L. Rudolph
Jan 12, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Nov 25, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Apr 09, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Aug 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
When I told my co-worker that I was reading a non-fictional account of the most famous brothel in American history, he immediately said "Oh your reading about the 'Bunny Ranch!" This statement made me a little sad because after reading this book I know that the "Bunny Ranch" is the antithesis of everything the Everleigh Club in Chicago represented in the sex trade industry.

It turns out that this is actually the second Karen Abbott biography I have read. I also read her amazing novel American Ros
Sep 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
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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
“Leave the fireworks for those who cast no spark of their own.” 37 likes
“An amusing city, Chicago, any way you look at it. I'm afraid we are in for the time of our lives.” 7 likes
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