Customer Reviews for

Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

Any middle schooler will tell you that the history teachers who

Any middle schooler will tell you that the history teachers who got you to WANT to come to class, who enticed you to WANT to know their subject matter were the ones who wove facts into an entertaining panorama of events and characters, the ones who had you sitting on th...
Any middle schooler will tell you that the history teachers who got you to WANT to come to class, who enticed you to WANT to know their subject matter were the ones who wove facts into an entertaining panorama of events and characters, the ones who had you sitting on the edge of your seat, shivering with anticipation, dreading the bell that would end the period before you found out what happened next. What you learned in their classes is forever buried deeply in your brain, and the details are readily available in the annals of your memory.

Richard Zacks understands the drama of history, and the first part of his new book Island of Vice is exactly the kind of source that should leave you with a vivid image of his subject: Theodore Roosevelt's crusade against 19th C purveyors of vice in New York City. He starts out with pizzazz, painting a backdrop that captures the seemy essence of the old Lower East Side and encapsulating characters in situations that animate them as vibrant personalities with a stake in the city they seem to love. The supporting characters like Reverend Parkhurst, Commissioners Frederick Grant, Andrew Parker and Avery Andrews, the vari-ethnic madames and pimps who drive the city's human marketplace, the corrupt police officers, the proliferating legions of poor people screaming "please sir can I have some more?" all portend a compelling page-turner, an unforgettable history lesson.

But all too soon, the book disappoints. Or is it Teddy himself who lets us down? The TR on these pages seems only partly fleshed out and remains hidden behind his Knickerbocker Protestantism and self-righteousness. He and his fellow reformers lack empathy for the City, and their motives to heal Gotham are lodged in their own egos and political aspirations. Characters don't have to be good to be interesting and intriguing, but they need to have some complexity. If they seem truly human, they can be sympathetic, even as you hate them. But this Roosevelt -- presumably the same Roosevelt who established the National Park Service, who thoroughly explored the Americas, Africa, the Middleast, who fought for some very controversial reforms in American business practices -- emerges as a pompous, bobble-headed little tyrant whose real agenda has little to do with New York City.

Maybe the the problem is not in the book, but watching Roosevelt of Island of Vice strut and fret his hour on the mean streets of downtown Manhattan was a little like watching the Republicans vie for the 2012 election. I wanted more. I wanted to know why this conservationist, this bully adventurer would waste so much hot air and so many precious resources creating band-aids when the real bleeding emanated, as it does today, from hemmorrhagic corruption? This Roosevelt is very like sculptor Autustus St. Gaudens' naked Diana that dominated the skyline when Teddy began his work in NYC: a lifeless facsimile of a deeper psyche than the eye ca see. . . at least the eye reading these pages.

Mr. Zacks is a master of research and compilation, and the book is largely a smooth, engrossing read until you realize there's no point in turning the next page because you just don't care what happens next to this most uninteresting guy . . . .

posted by CarlaatDaptd on April 14, 2012

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Most Helpful Critical Review

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

Recommended

A little known piece of history brought to light. I found this well written and informative. The writer gives insight into why, despite high moral standing, these efforts seldom succeed.
While reading this I continually saw parallels with other times politicians have t...
A little known piece of history brought to light. I found this well written and informative. The writer gives insight into why, despite high moral standing, these efforts seldom succeed.
While reading this I continually saw parallels with other times politicians have tried and failed to legislate morals. Prohibition, prostitution laws,and the war on drugs are more current examples.

posted by dogbert on April 15, 2012

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  • Posted April 14, 2012

    Any middle schooler will tell you that the history teachers who

    Any middle schooler will tell you that the history teachers who got you to WANT to come to class, who enticed you to WANT to know their subject matter were the ones who wove facts into an entertaining panorama of events and characters, the ones who had you sitting on the edge of your seat, shivering with anticipation, dreading the bell that would end the period before you found out what happened next. What you learned in their classes is forever buried deeply in your brain, and the details are readily available in the annals of your memory.

    Richard Zacks understands the drama of history, and the first part of his new book Island of Vice is exactly the kind of source that should leave you with a vivid image of his subject: Theodore Roosevelt's crusade against 19th C purveyors of vice in New York City. He starts out with pizzazz, painting a backdrop that captures the seemy essence of the old Lower East Side and encapsulating characters in situations that animate them as vibrant personalities with a stake in the city they seem to love. The supporting characters like Reverend Parkhurst, Commissioners Frederick Grant, Andrew Parker and Avery Andrews, the vari-ethnic madames and pimps who drive the city's human marketplace, the corrupt police officers, the proliferating legions of poor people screaming "please sir can I have some more?" all portend a compelling page-turner, an unforgettable history lesson.

    But all too soon, the book disappoints. Or is it Teddy himself who lets us down? The TR on these pages seems only partly fleshed out and remains hidden behind his Knickerbocker Protestantism and self-righteousness. He and his fellow reformers lack empathy for the City, and their motives to heal Gotham are lodged in their own egos and political aspirations. Characters don't have to be good to be interesting and intriguing, but they need to have some complexity. If they seem truly human, they can be sympathetic, even as you hate them. But this Roosevelt -- presumably the same Roosevelt who established the National Park Service, who thoroughly explored the Americas, Africa, the Middleast, who fought for some very controversial reforms in American business practices -- emerges as a pompous, bobble-headed little tyrant whose real agenda has little to do with New York City.

    Maybe the the problem is not in the book, but watching Roosevelt of Island of Vice strut and fret his hour on the mean streets of downtown Manhattan was a little like watching the Republicans vie for the 2012 election. I wanted more. I wanted to know why this conservationist, this bully adventurer would waste so much hot air and so many precious resources creating band-aids when the real bleeding emanated, as it does today, from hemmorrhagic corruption? This Roosevelt is very like sculptor Autustus St. Gaudens' naked Diana that dominated the skyline when Teddy began his work in NYC: a lifeless facsimile of a deeper psyche than the eye ca see. . . at least the eye reading these pages.

    Mr. Zacks is a master of research and compilation, and the book is largely a smooth, engrossing read until you realize there's no point in turning the next page because you just don't care what happens next to this most uninteresting guy . . . .

    6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2013

    Great read!

    Just another reason to respect and admire Theodore Roosevelt. Like we really need another one.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 21, 2012

    A Great Look into the History of the NYPD

    This was a very interesting book not only about the history of the NYPD but also the early days of New York City. At the turn on the century New York was not only a very tough place to work but also to live. Theodore Roosevelt was the first step in not only getting the NYPD on the right path but the city of New York to change with the times.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 15, 2012

    Recommended

    A little known piece of history brought to light. I found this well written and informative. The writer gives insight into why, despite high moral standing, these efforts seldom succeed.
    While reading this I continually saw parallels with other times politicians have tried and failed to legislate morals. Prohibition, prostitution laws,and the war on drugs are more current examples.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2013

    Slow read

    Interesting topic but a really slow ready. It simply takes Zacks too long to get into the heart of the topic, which is TR's work to clean up the city. I understand the need to provide background information, but Zacks takes 100 pages to drone on with information that could have been condensed into 40. Buy the time TR is introduced as police commissioner I was already bored.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2012

    ¿¿t¿h¿ ¿r¿ t¿k¿¿g ¿v¿r th¿ w?rld

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2012

    Boring

    Lost interest and put the book away 1/4 the ay through.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 19, 2012

    Recommend

    A very interesting story of American history. I had previously been unaware of this era. The writing is engaging and draws the reader into the topic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2012

    Reccmmend it...

    Quite interesting. Really learned somthing about early NYC history.

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  • Posted April 15, 2012

    For history buffs

    I recommend this for people who are interested in late 19th century history in the US. It is well written, but full of details which a reader not very interested in the subject might find tedious to get through.

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  • Posted April 14, 2012

    Interesting read

    This book is an interesting read. It doesn't bog you down with just fact after fact as much of the book is based on actual testimony. It reads a little bit drier than historical fiction but is still keeping my interest.

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  • Posted April 11, 2012

    Very Interesting

    ISLAND OF VICE is a facinating read. It covers a hetherto largely unknown peroid of TR's life.

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  • Posted April 6, 2012

    A BULLY OF A READ! MY APOLOGIES TO MR. ROOSEVELT

    One of the truly great popular histories of the last decade. Zack's takes the reader through a truly vivid tour of late 19th century NYC with all of its crime, corruption and vice--like looking over the shoulder of Pankhurt, Roosevelt and Riis. A novel look at the struggles that even the great TR faced in attempting to reform NYC and the rampant corruption endorsed by Tammany. Wonderful read!

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  • Posted April 3, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Outstanding!

    Outstanding!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2012

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