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The Devil's Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square
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The Devil's Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square

3.50  ·  Rating details ·  157 ratings  ·  19 reviews
As Times Square turns 100, New York Times Magazine contributing writer James Traub tells the story of how this mercurial district became one of the most famous and exciting places in the world. The Devil’s Playground is classic and colorful American history, from the first years of the twentieth century through the Runyonesque heyday of nightclubs and theaters in the 1920s and ’30 ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published December 21st 2004 by Random House Trade (first published March 16th 2004)
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Average rating 3.50  · 
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 ·  157 ratings  ·  19 reviews

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Kressel Housman
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this as research for a historical fiction contest I hoped to enter, but I didn’t get very far before I realized that I wasn’t going to finish the book, much less my story, before the deadline. That put a real damper on my enthusiasm for the book, but I regained it in the second half. As has happened before with books that cover a broad swath of history, the closer the book got to my lifetime, the more I appreciated it.

The book is about the history of Times Square and 42nd Stre
Jun 17, 2013 rated it liked it
More like 2.5 stars. The idea is fascinating: trace the history of Times Square from its humble beginnings to the giant corporate billboard that is today. I appreciated some of the earlier chapters but got bogged down with his writing style. The book just got boring the longer it went on. I did learn some useful information but think it should have been about 100 pages shorter.
Mar 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
5...4...3...2...1...Happy New Year!

Out with the old, in with the new.

In James Traub’s The Devils Playground, the history of Times Square and the infamous side streets are explored in a factual sometimes philosophical manner.

Beginning in 1902 when the owner of The NY Times Adolph Ochs bought a triangle plot of land through 2004 the year the book was published, we learn about the old, the new and the ever-changing landscape and character of what is sometimes called the hub
Oct 05, 2010 rated it liked it
What is it with folks who write for the New Yorker publishing books that claim to be stand-alone works but are, in actuality, simply a collection of the articles they've written for the New Yorker, expanded and stitched together with rough yarn?

All of that said, I enjoyed the read immensely, regardless of the patchwork feel of the thing. Traub does a nice job of presenting the history of Times Square (if a little spotty on some of the details of certain, "uninteresting" eras)
Corey J
Times Square as a Policy Document

If you want an insight into 'the devil's playground' of Times Square, as the title would suggest; maybe read Last Exit to Brooklyn or watch Taxi Driver, or Midnight Cowboy. If you want to know about the real estate deals and the historical context of the changing face of the square, this is your book.
Interesting, well-written history of New York's most famous public space. Published in the early 2000s, the book is a bit dated in spots (for instance much space is devoted to the opening of the Toys R Us Times Square flagship store, which closed in 2016) but certainly still worth reading.
Feb 04, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was impossibly dull. The story was so interesting but the writer focused on dull pieces and got caught up in his own tics. It was so difficult to get through as he droned on and on. Endless pages on Toys R Us for crying out loud.
Dwight Davis
Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really interesting take both on city planning, philosophy of the built environment, and a history of Times Square. Somewhat out of date now, but still a fascinating read.
Kathy Wojo
Feb 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Didn't keep my interest like I thought it would. Well researched, and if you are a fan of New York City this would be a great read. But for me I just couldn't stay interested.
Susan Olesen

Okay, it’s out of date (2004) but it’s history, so it’s good until that point, and since most of the landmarks he talks about are still doing a thriving business, I’m not having a problem with it.

Times Square, simply put, is the Icon of America itself, almost as much as the White House. For more than a hundred years, it has been the center of the world, the image people have when they think of New York, or Broadway, or important theater. This is where American standard songs were wri
May 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book, which traces the history of Times Square from its earliest beginnings to the era of redevelopment and "Disneyfication" in the 1990s. I was surprised to find myself liking the later, more contemporary chapters, just as much if not more as those on Times Square's early days. It seemed that perhaps Traub, a reporter at the NYT, was more engaged with the later chapters, for which he could do on-the-scenes research and interviews, than with the earlier ones, which were all ...more
Dianne Landry
May 05, 2014 rated it it was ok
Ah, Times Square, that wonderful, crowded, loud, gaudy centre of iniquity. The stories this place could tell! As someone who has spent many hours there (including one drunken New Year's Eve, don't ask) I can say that unfortunattely, Mr. Traub is not the man to tell them. His style is very plodding and just doesn't do one of my favourite places in the world the justice it deserves. Oh well, at least he tried.
Xander Ring
Jan 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This was a very good read.  A comprehensive and entertaining history of Times Square and through it a history of entertainment in America.  The chapters on the glory days and decline of this area are fascinating and entertaining.  I'll be in New York in a few weeks and I look forward to seeing Times Square with new eyes.  
Oct 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I went to school in Times Sq. during the twilight of its dirty days. I miss the grit and dirt and am blinded by the lights making TSQ the playground it was never meant to be. One thing that hasn't changed is how much the tourists annoy the fuck out of me
Jan 20, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Too long. The history of Times Square is very interesting; the author should have limited the book to telling the stories rather than offering his opinions. It would have been helpful to include a map of Times Square. Photos, too.
Mar 07, 2014 rated it did not like it
Absolutely boring, I cannot finish this.
Aug 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fast concise and fascinating history of 100 years of Times Square. Who new urban history could be so much fun.
Mar 18, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
More like 2 1/2 stars. It's a fascinating subject, but the book is just not that well written.
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