Thursday, June 12, 2008

All the animals come out at night

I once had the belief that American history wasn't very interesting. Although I am mostly to blame for this misapprehension, my schooling had an impact. The teaching in my primary and secondary years, while great in many respects, wasn't illuminating in regards to US history. I went to college for a international relations degree, so I learned more about Polish history than American history, domestic at least. With this in mind, I rarely picked up American history books for pleasure reading.

This was of course a mistake. US history is immensely fascinating and engaging and writers like Erik Larson, Tony Horwitz and now Karen Abbott have succeeded in making it even more fun by bringing our national obsessions of sex and violence into the mix. I'm reading Abbott's Sin in the Second City, which is set in turn of the century Chicago, where prostitution thrived and angry reformers sought to shut it down.

Abbott's focus is on the Everleigh sisters whose Everleigh Club served the wealthy and powerful with all manner of sensual delights. Unlike the other houses in the Levee district, the sisters also treated their women well. Abbott contrasts this desire to create a more humane prostitution system with the crusaders who attacked the horrible abuses of how it was normally practiced. It's a very fun read so far, with much period detail.

Having just read one book about the effects of moral crusades on America, it will be interesting to get more of Abbott's take on the crusade against white slavery, as it was called and how it might compare with the anti-communist, anti-slavery and anti-drinking crusades that swept the country.

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