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Most Helpful Favorable Review
5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.
Any middle schooler will tell you that the history teachers who
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, 2012Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Most Helpful Critical Review
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.
While reading this I continually saw parallels with other times politicians have t...
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, 2012Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 14, 2013
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.