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Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York    by Richard Zacks order for
Island of Vice
by Richard Zacks
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

New York City has always been a place where one can find just about any amusement one desires, but in the 1890s the city was unquestionably the sin capital of the country. Not only were there drinking establishments on virtually every street but gambling dens were also easy to access.

An estimated 40,000 prostitutes were kept busy in the city and corruption was common in City Hall as well as the neighborhood police stations.

Writing of New York City's reputation as sin city, Richard Zacks notes, 'A man with a letch, a thirst or an urge to gamble could easily fill it night or day.'

Many citizens of the time would say the Big Apple was rotten to the core and in prime need of a serious clean-up. Zack's Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York tells the story of the two year campaign Roosevelt launched as the city's police commissioner to do just that.

When in 1895 the indomitable reformer resolved to purge and purify the city, he was taking on some pretty powerful and influential adversaries. Convincing New York's two million citizens that there were more wholesome types of fun and entertainment than those found in bars, gambling dens and bordellos might be an uphill struggle, but TR never shied away from a fight. In fact, this was a challenge the outspoken crusader seemed to relish.

'He had a knight-errant quality about him, eager to call out the frivolous rich, the lazy poor, the sleazy politicians,' writes Zacks about Roosevelt.

Once he has fully chronicled the extent and depth of the city's wickedness, Zacks explains how the new police commissioner approached the Sisyphean task of cleaning up the mess.

As he went head to head with Tammany Hall, tried to purge the police force of derelict and tainted officers and enforce the prostitution laws, Roosevelt was lampooned by the press and abandoned by his own political party.

This stint as police commissioner, although relatively short, provided the future U.S. president with the determination to take on even more powerful corrupt forces at a later time. Once in the White House, TR turned his attention to busting up some of the country's biggest trusts.

Filled with colorful vignettes that make this narrative as entertaining as it is informative, Island of Vice offers a detailed look at one aspect of Theodore Roosevelt's remarkable and colorful career. As much a history of this period in New York's past as it is the story of TR's determined crusade, this narrative operates on multiple levels.

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