Island of Vice

  • by Richard Zacks
  • Narrated by Joe Ochman
  • 15 hrs and 28 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

When young Theodore Roosevelt was appointed police commissioner of New York City, he had the astounding gall to try to shut down the brothels, gambling joints, and after-hours saloons. This is the story of how TR took on Manhattan vice... and vice won.
In the 1890s, New York City was America’s financial, manufacturing, and entertainment capital, and also its preferred destination for sin, teeming with forty thousand prostitutes, glittery casinos, and all-night dives. Police cap­tains took hefty bribes to see nothing while reformers writhed in frustration.
In Island of Vice, Richard Zacks paints a vivid portrait of the lewd underbelly of 1890s New York, and of Theodore Roosevelt, the puritanical, cocksure police commissioner resolved to clean it up. Writing with great wit and zest, Zacks explores how young Roosevelt goes head to head with Tammany Hall, takes midnight rambles with muckraker Jacob Riis, and tries to convince two million New Yorkers to enjoy wholesome family fun. When Roosevelt’s crackdown succeeds too well, even his supporters turn on him, and TR discovers that New York loves its sin more than its salvation.
With cameos by Stephen Crane, Mark Twain, and a horde of very angry cops, Island of Vice is an unforgettable snap­shot of turn-of-the-century New York in all its seedy glory and a brilliant miniature of one of America’s most colorful presidents.

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What the Critics Say

“Here is young Teddy Roosevelt as the reformist New York City Police Commissioner confronted in 1895 with a cabal of unaccountably wealthy police officials, whole neighborhoods of brothels, and the paws of the Tammany Tiger in everything. A delicious municipal history, impeccably researched, excitingly told.” (E. L. Doctorow, award-winning author of Ragtime)
"In the early 1890s, New York was America's vice capital, with thousands of prostitutes and countless all-night gambling halls. But then, in 1895, Teddy Roosevelt was appointed police commissioner. Richard Zacks paints an engagingly vivid picture of the rise of Roosevelt, the birth of the reform movement, and the creation of 20th century America. Roosevelt comes alive with all of his blustery and belligerent passion, and so does New York City." (Walter Isaacson, best-selling author of Steve Jobs and Einstein: His Life and Universe)
“From the opening pages of his rousing new book, Island of Vice, Richard Zacks plunges readers into the filth, debauchery and corruption of 1890s New York. When an ambitious young Theodore Roosevelt strides in to clean up the mess, the story, already brimming with incredible characters and jaw-dropping details, only gets better. “ (Candice Millard, best-selling author of The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Interesting and informative

What did you love best about Island of Vice?

Provided a very good understanding of turn of the century (19th to 20th) NY and national politics, morals, and how Theodore Roosevelt tried to put NYC on a better path against overwhelming odds.


What was one of the most memorable moments of Island of Vice?

Anecdotes captured from letters, journals, etc. detailing Roosevelt's hands on approach to changing the cutlure in the NYPD.


Any additional comments?

Excellent book that is very readable/listenable. I have read several TR books and thoroughly enjoyed the detailed material focusing on TR's time as a Police Commissioner and the insight it provided into big city machine politics. While this book is entertaining, it is not a historical fiction nor is it intended to read like a novel. Bottom line, this book kept me entertained during 15hrs of commute and exercise time and I was smarter at the end; it was worth my credit and I have recommended to others.

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- Carrie Taylor

The making of a man

TR, at age 35. left a comfortable job in Civil Service in 1895 to become the chief commissioner of New York's police department. He was ill-prepared for the bureaucratic tangles that faced him. He set out to inforce ALL laws and clean up a corrupt police department. The city was one of the countries most violent, crooked, crime-ridden place. Other biographers has skipped this two year period of TR's life but Zack covers it completely. The book bogs down in too much statistics of crime therefore is an overkill trying to prove that the corruption and crime was rampant. The book does point out the crucial period in the evolution of TR. The job did much for TR in that he learned the impracticality of bitter feuds, the dangers of impulsive crusades and toughened his skin and established him as a reformer. If you can get through the repetition of data the book provides an interesting look at New York City in the 1890's and the making of TR. Joe Ochman did a good job with the narration.
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- Jean

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-13-2012
  • Publisher: Random House Audio