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Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York - Richard Zacks Rating: 3.5* of five The Book Description: 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. My Review: I admire Theodore Roosevelt. I wish there was a TR on today's political landscape: A wealthy man with a sense of reforming zeal, whose ruling passion isn't to accumulate more for himself but to make sure that the path to accumulating more is open to all, and to be sure that the greediest are checked from confiscating the outrageous percentages of national income that they feel entitled to.Such a person isn't anywhere to be found today, or I am unaware of his or her existence.Be that as it may, this book is a terrific piece of social history using TR's tenure as New York's Police Commissioner (actually president of the board of commissioners, which is awkward to type and say repeatedly) when “New York” meant Manhattan. It still does, really, but no longer legally since 1898. Manhattan was the Sin Capital of America, gawd bless it, as it was until about the 1980s. Now it's LA, a place with no character to speak of, and Sin is now international big business, Sin.com, instead of Miss Nettie's Hen and Chicks on Second Street.Fighting to instill “morals” them as don't want to be moralized is, then as now, pointless. Making things more difficult for providers of sex, booze, and gambling drives the prices up and chokes off exactly none of the supply. No power on the planet, or above it, will choke off demand, and isn't it time to admit that? People are not gonna stop sinnin' and ain't nothin' gonna make 'em. So shut up about the stuff you don't like, quit passing expensive prohibitory laws that make no difference anyway, and tax the drug, sex, and gambling industries. Guaran-damn-tee you there will never again in history be a government spending deficit.Roosevelt's tenure as Police Commissioner was marked by political failures galore, because then as now, where there's men there's prostitutes, booze, and gambling. Those interests are powerful politically, and then as now they bought up politicians like eggs...by the dozens. New York State is really two states: The sin-loving City and the appleknockin' church-goin' upstate that likes to pass laws to twit the City. But the Albany pols were and are owned by the corporate interests, and the profits of the City's various sins pay for the rest of the state's infrastructure, so the reforms and prohibitions are either toothless or weak-kneed. Why kill the goose? We need them golden eggs. So TR, a man of strong convictions and of astounding self-confidence, went up against the various political machines in New York City and State with an eye to stopping...yes, halting!...the illicit, forbidden, openly practiced vices that his Dutch Reformed Protestant sin-seein' soul recoiled from.HA!This was after TR's career as a minor Navy bureaucrat, and a would-be bestselling writer, had failed to take him to the heights he aspired to. The Navy, in that day and time, was a backwater posting as the United States wasn't in danger of fighting a war (that would change in a few years) and the world wasn't much in the habit of considering us as A Power. New York, his hometown, needed TR's energy and passion; it was assumed he'd follow the mold once he got there.HA!So Zacks has an oodle of material to work with, from the TR story and the role that his tenure as Police Commissioner played in it, to the history of vice (always entertaining!), to the gigantic pressures of the Gilded Age on the frayed fabric of society that led to the Progressive movement's eventual successes under—ahem!—the Roosevelt Administration to come. Corporate greed and wrongdoing were checked. Abuses of trust and fraud and graft were described and laws against them were passed and regulatory bodies to enforce those laws were created.Under the watchful eye of a failed wealthy Republican Police Commissioner, whose inability to clean up his own hometown hardened something in him, and made him better able to face down US Steel, Standard Oil, AT&T, et alii.This is the story, then, that Zacks has to work with, and he does a workmanlike job of drawing its strands together. His writing isn't extraordinary in either direction, his research skills are excellent, his eye and ear for what phrase or anecdote to pull from the immense torrent of printed sources at his disposal is very well-tuned.But something is missing, a certain passion or connection to the story. Something juuuuust fails to take flight. Candice Millard, she of River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic, blurbs this book by praising the story to the skies, and calling the book “rousing.” Ah...yes...the story is the star. In Millard's books aforementioned, there's no doubt whatever that she is telling a terrific story, but there's also no doubt that she's writing a wonderful book.Zacks, with the best will in the world and a strong interest in the subject, is only telling a terrific story.