Hot Best Seller

Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age

Availability: Ready to download

The compulsively readable and sometimes jaw-dropping story of the life of a notorious madam who played hostess to every gangster, politician, writer, sports star and Cafe Society swell worth knowing, and who as much as any single figure helped make the twenties roar--from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America. "Applegate's tour de force abo The compulsively readable and sometimes jaw-dropping story of the life of a notorious madam who played hostess to every gangster, politician, writer, sports star and Cafe Society swell worth knowing, and who as much as any single figure helped make the twenties roar--from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America. "Applegate's tour de force about Jazz Age icon Polly Adler will seize you by the lapels, buy you a drink, and keep you reading until the very last page.... A treat for fiction and nonfiction fans alike. --Abbott Kahler, New York Times bestselling author (as Karen Abbott) of The Ghosts of Eden Park Simply put: Everybody came to Polly's. Pearl Polly Adler (1900-1962) was a diminutive dynamo whose Manhattan brothels in the Roaring Twenties became places not just for men to have the company of women but were key gathering places where the culturati and celebrity elite mingled with high society and with violent figures of the underworld--and had a good time doing it. As a Jewish immigrant from eastern Europe, Polly Adler's life is a classic American story of success and assimilation that starts like a novel by Henry Roth and then turns into a glittering real-life tale straight out of F. Scott Fitzgerald. She declared her ambition to be the best goddam madam in all America and succeeded wildly. Debby Applegate uses Polly's story as the key to unpacking just what made the 1920s the appallingly corrupt yet glamorous and transformational era that it was and how the collision between high and low is the unique ingredient that fuels American culture.


Compare

The compulsively readable and sometimes jaw-dropping story of the life of a notorious madam who played hostess to every gangster, politician, writer, sports star and Cafe Society swell worth knowing, and who as much as any single figure helped make the twenties roar--from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America. "Applegate's tour de force abo The compulsively readable and sometimes jaw-dropping story of the life of a notorious madam who played hostess to every gangster, politician, writer, sports star and Cafe Society swell worth knowing, and who as much as any single figure helped make the twenties roar--from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America. "Applegate's tour de force about Jazz Age icon Polly Adler will seize you by the lapels, buy you a drink, and keep you reading until the very last page.... A treat for fiction and nonfiction fans alike. --Abbott Kahler, New York Times bestselling author (as Karen Abbott) of The Ghosts of Eden Park Simply put: Everybody came to Polly's. Pearl Polly Adler (1900-1962) was a diminutive dynamo whose Manhattan brothels in the Roaring Twenties became places not just for men to have the company of women but were key gathering places where the culturati and celebrity elite mingled with high society and with violent figures of the underworld--and had a good time doing it. As a Jewish immigrant from eastern Europe, Polly Adler's life is a classic American story of success and assimilation that starts like a novel by Henry Roth and then turns into a glittering real-life tale straight out of F. Scott Fitzgerald. She declared her ambition to be the best goddam madam in all America and succeeded wildly. Debby Applegate uses Polly's story as the key to unpacking just what made the 1920s the appallingly corrupt yet glamorous and transformational era that it was and how the collision between high and low is the unique ingredient that fuels American culture.

30 review for Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age

  1. 5 out of 5

    Linden

    Debby Applegate, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian, has written a fascinating biography of Polly Adler, a jazz-age madam, referred to as the "Jewish Jezebel." At age 13, she came to the United States by herself from a shtetel in Russia, and eventually became a notorious madam, catering to society men, gangsters, and the literati of 1920's New York. In Polly's rags to riches story; the author tells of life in the shtetl, Polly's experience as a new immigrant, and the reality of running an illici Debby Applegate, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian, has written a fascinating biography of Polly Adler, a jazz-age madam, referred to as the "Jewish Jezebel." At age 13, she came to the United States by herself from a shtetel in Russia, and eventually became a notorious madam, catering to society men, gangsters, and the literati of 1920's New York. In Polly's rags to riches story; the author tells of life in the shtetl, Polly's experience as a new immigrant, and the reality of running an illicit business in 1920's Manhattan, replete with police payoffs, bootleggers, drugs, and the constant demand for attractive women. (I kept wondering if she would get caught, as did so many of the gangsters of the era, for tax evasion.) Recommended for anyone with an interest in women's history, or the history of the Roaring Twenties.. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Giveaway Win! I love the 1920's it was a time of great change in American society. Women started to express their independence, youth culture became a thing, sexual taboos were being explored and dismantled. Basically times were a changing. Russian Jewish immigrant Polly Adler arrived in America at just the right time. The New York City that Polly arrived in was a hard place for immigrants and it was even harder for a young immigrant woman. There were many days when Polly went without food and had Giveaway Win! I love the 1920's it was a time of great change in American society. Women started to express their independence, youth culture became a thing, sexual taboos were being explored and dismantled. Basically times were a changing. Russian Jewish immigrant Polly Adler arrived in America at just the right time. The New York City that Polly arrived in was a hard place for immigrants and it was even harder for a young immigrant woman. There were many days when Polly went without food and had to rely on the kindness of friends to have some place to live. But Polly was a hustler and soon discovered the business that would make her rich and infamous...Sex. Polly Adler was one of the biggest and most well known madams in the 1920's. Her Manhattan brothel was considered the place to be for not just "Johns" looking for sex but also for the 1920's glitterati. Polly's friends included Desi Arnaz, Dutch Schultz, Duke Ellington, Al Capone and Franklin Roosevelt. Polly Adler was the true definition of a entrepreneur. After the sex industry no longer was conducive to her life she became a New York Times best-selling author. What An Icon! Madam was not only a fascinating look at one of the most interesting women of the 20th century but it was also a great look at what life was like for immigrants at that time and it explored just how much society was changing during this time. Polly went from being a penniless 13 year old immigrant to being the First Lady of the Underworld to being a bestselling author. If that isn't the American Dream than I don't know what is. Great book! Recommended to my fellow History lovers.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Camelia Rose

    In her latest book, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Debby Applegate did her best to reveal the history and the full character of Polly Adler, the famous/infamous madam (a.k.a. brothel owner) of Jazz Age. Thoroughly researched, the biography not only presents the life story of Polly Adler, but also gives a kaleidoscopic view of 1920s and 1930s New York, including both the highbrow and lowbrow: the gangsters, politicians, entertainment personals of Broadway, the literatis, and of cours In her latest book, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Debby Applegate did her best to reveal the history and the full character of Polly Adler, the famous/infamous madam (a.k.a. brothel owner) of Jazz Age. Thoroughly researched, the biography not only presents the life story of Polly Adler, but also gives a kaleidoscopic view of 1920s and 1930s New York, including both the highbrow and lowbrow: the gangsters, politicians, entertainment personals of Broadway, the literatis, and of course, the madams, prostitutes and their customers. This is not a book of voyeurism. I like the feminism angle when analysing a complex woman like Polly Adler. Polly Adler, born Pearl Adler in Yanow, Belarus to a Jewish tailor and his wife, immigrated to the US at age of 13. Her earlier years in the US were as tremulous as her later years. Thanks to the excellent writing, I keep hoping that Pearl would make it, and she would not end up as a prostitute and a madam as she did. I don’t find any white-washing in the book. Applegate is also careful not to pass on moral judgements. There are plenty of disturbing scenes. Almost all women who ended up being a prostitute for Polly (and prostitution in genral) had some kind of sexual trauma during their formative years, including Polly herself. Polly Adler claimed that she never recruited fresh start girls but the author thinks she did. According to the author, the reason she survived gangsters, law enforcements and blackmailers is largely attributed to her discretion and practicality. As a madam of the oldest disreputable profession, she craved for respectability until the very end of her life. She wrote her memoir, A House is Not a Home, a bestseller, with the help of her literary friend, Virginia Faulkner. Yet, she claimed it was all written by herself. What I find very interesting: - Tammany Hall, the influential political pressure group, the political machine behind Democratic Party of New York - The unspeakable connection between gangsters, elections and politicians - NYPD, how corrupted it was, especially its notorious plainclothes vice squad. - The general public’s change of attitude towards fashion, women and sex during 1920s. - In the 1920s, Jewish took up 20% of the population in New York, but 50% of the brothels were run by Jewish madams - How “Jazz” in the Jazz Age came to being; interesting it originally was associated with disreputable underworld and decadence; the connection between gangsters and Broadway industry; how George Gershwin wrote his famous Rhapsody in Blue (1924) - Dorothy Parker, a famous American poet and writer of her time, strikes me as the only modern woman (by today’s standard) among Polly’s patrons - Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby is based on Arnold Rothstein, a Jewish mob boss of the Jazz Age. Slangs I’ve learned: bootleggers, speakeasies, watering holes, kingpin Polly Adler’s business was inevitably entangled with the New York underworld. There are many gangsters and mob bosses, Irish, Jewish and Italian, too many for me to remember their names. Here are a few: Arnold Rothstein, George McManus, Dutch Schultz

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jennie Damron

    My husband bought this for me for Christmas. I am so glad he did. Polly Adler's life was fascinating. Her connections to the mob and Crime syndicate made for excellent reading. I was surprised how thorough the research was done. To me it seemed nothing was left out. Polly was Indeed a historical figure. She knew so much about the inner workings of the mob and politics of that time. Yet even though she never got the respect she so longed for people admired her for never being a snitch. Honestly w My husband bought this for me for Christmas. I am so glad he did. Polly Adler's life was fascinating. Her connections to the mob and Crime syndicate made for excellent reading. I was surprised how thorough the research was done. To me it seemed nothing was left out. Polly was Indeed a historical figure. She knew so much about the inner workings of the mob and politics of that time. Yet even though she never got the respect she so longed for people admired her for never being a snitch. Honestly with how many times she was double crossed it indeed was impressive. I enjoyed my time with this book. Polly Adler was a Madam and I would say she did that job well.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Valerity (Val)

    A fascinating and thorough look at the life of Polly Adler. She came to America alone from a shtetl in Janow, Russia. After being kicked out of two different relatives homes, she moved to New York City and got some work in a corset factory. She learned the ropes in the prostitution game and set up her first brothel in 1920, the same year as Prohibition came into existence as a moral ban on alcohol. She ran her brothels well for someone in her 20s, but paid a lot of money in bribes and still got A fascinating and thorough look at the life of Polly Adler. She came to America alone from a shtetl in Janow, Russia. After being kicked out of two different relatives homes, she moved to New York City and got some work in a corset factory. She learned the ropes in the prostitution game and set up her first brothel in 1920, the same year as Prohibition came into existence as a moral ban on alcohol. She ran her brothels well for someone in her 20s, but paid a lot of money in bribes and still got busted at times. That cost her a lot in having to relocate, bail everyone out and hire lawyers. Polly built up a following of famous people, wealthy patrons, and underworld figures. She allowed just about anyone with a large bankroll to hire the services of her whores. Polly Adler soon became so well known that there were few who didn’t recognize her name. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Debby Applegate, and the publisher.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    This is so much more than a biography of the infamous MADAM, Polly Adler, it is a social history of the era in which she reigned. The author has blended in so many of the important political, sports figures and other celebrities, that I found it a joyful learning experience. I know I will use this material in my seminars. This book is well written and filled with the fascinating story of an era. Thank you Netgalley for sending me this remarkable book

  7. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin

    If you're someone who's thinking, "Eh, I don't know if I want to spend 600 pages reading about a madam," fear not, Debby Applegate's "Madam" is a sleek, Duesenberg-like vehicle to examine prominent gangsters, musicians, politicians, businessman, athletes and writers -- I'm looking at you, The New Yorker -- who patronized her prostitutes, and the larger societal trends these figures, along with Polly herself, represented. From that perspective, her book succeeds roaringly. Where I think the book f If you're someone who's thinking, "Eh, I don't know if I want to spend 600 pages reading about a madam," fear not, Debby Applegate's "Madam" is a sleek, Duesenberg-like vehicle to examine prominent gangsters, musicians, politicians, businessman, athletes and writers -- I'm looking at you, The New Yorker -- who patronized her prostitutes, and the larger societal trends these figures, along with Polly herself, represented. From that perspective, her book succeeds roaringly. Where I think the book falters slightly is in its dearth of details about Polly's relationships with her workers. For instance, I may be mistaken, but I can't recall a single mention of what the basic percentage revenue split was between Polly and her workers, nor did I get a palpable feel for what it was like to work for Polly on a day-to-day basis; perhaps those stories are lost to history, but Applegate is SUCH a thorough and capable researcher about everything else, it feels like an emotional hole. If you provided services to the country's most famous men and were simultaneously shunned by the larger society, you, too, would be obsessed with respectability as much as Polly was, however, I found that trope belabored and, ultimately, as uninteresting as Polly's cravings for fame. One theme I didn't find tiresome: despite her renown and periods of wealth, you wouldn't wish Polly's job on anyone it was so stressful and dangerous, albeit far better than the alternative: working in a sweatshop for nothing. In any case, this is a SERIOUSLY enjoyable and informative read and I strongly recommend it despite the aforementioned quibbles. If you liked Bill Bryson's "One Summer: America, 1927," or get off on hypocrisy with a capital "H," you'll relish this book. Lastly, one factoid I learned that was never mentioned in Hebrew school: Jewish women, apparently, made the best madams.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    This book about a major madam of the early 20th century is far from titillating. I did feel exhausted with the merry-go-round of pay-offs and address changes necessarily for Polly Adler to stay on top of her profession. The book does contain familiar names, mostly gangsters but also a few from literati and show biz. The book is a good view of how the country, especially morals, have changed over the century. The punch line appeared in her obituary. Despite close to 50 years in the oldest professio This book about a major madam of the early 20th century is far from titillating. I did feel exhausted with the merry-go-round of pay-offs and address changes necessarily for Polly Adler to stay on top of her profession. The book does contain familiar names, mostly gangsters but also a few from literati and show biz. The book is a good view of how the country, especially morals, have changed over the century. The punch line appeared in her obituary. Despite close to 50 years in the oldest profession, she spent the last 10 years of her life pushing her autobiography. Her description in her obit: auteur.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sharyl

    This is not only a fascinating biography of Polly Adler, but also an insightful history of the Jazz Age. Polly Adler was once one of many young immigrants to come from Eastern Europe, but the path her life took was anything but expected. Born in Yanow, Russia, in 1900, Pearl Adler's early life was very circumspect due to her gender and the anti-Semitic restrictions of the Russian Empire. Nevertheless, throughout her childhood, Pearl exhibited intelligence and was determined to get an education, This is not only a fascinating biography of Polly Adler, but also an insightful history of the Jazz Age. Polly Adler was once one of many young immigrants to come from Eastern Europe, but the path her life took was anything but expected. Born in Yanow, Russia, in 1900, Pearl Adler's early life was very circumspect due to her gender and the anti-Semitic restrictions of the Russian Empire. Nevertheless, throughout her childhood, Pearl exhibited intelligence and was determined to get an education, even though that was unheard of for a girl. At just thirteen years of age, she landed at Ellis Island, all alone, to meet relations who were strangers. When this arrangement turned out to be less than desirable, she was forced to live on her own at a very young age. Her intelligence and determination would be put to many a test in the coming years. How Pearl became Polly Adler, the most well-known madam and a legend in New York City, is a long story, and very much worth reading. Boxers, gangsters, politicians, entertainers, cops, judges, writers, and reporters. High brow, low brow, and everything in between. She met them. Some came for drinks and games, some for sex, some to hide out. She had her finger on the pulse of the current culture for years. I was shocked at the depth of corruption in NYC during Polly’s lifetime. It was truly wild, as was her existence. The tenacity and stamina it took to hold on to her livelihood is unimaginable. Author Debby Applegate has used the language of this time period, and it effectively creates an atmosphere that transports the reader to another era. I am impressed with the extensive research this volume required and was captivated by its style. I haven’t given away any details in this review, in the hope that some of the surprising facts--and there are many--will amaze and enthrall someone else in the same way. Thank you so much to Doubleday and Netgalley for this mesmerizing experience.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Leslie Zemeckis

    Excellent bio of madam Polly Adler - an in-depth look at jazz age prostitution in NYC

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kristine

    Madam by Debby Applegate is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late October. The 1920s era-specific description is laid over a scene/situation like heavy ornate drapes that you want to push or peel aside. It’s a bummer since I love stories like these, but it’s meant for a far more patient and obliging reader than I am.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Wagner

    Polly Adler lived a very unique version of the American dream. Born into a Jewish family in Russia around the turn of the twentieth century, Polly immigrated to the United States just before World War I. Young and in need of a way to support herself, Polly tried a number of trades before she was pulled into the world of brothels, madams, and sex. Before long, Polly was a madam herself, running her own bordello patronized by some of the most notable men of New York in the 1920s and 30s. Adler had Polly Adler lived a very unique version of the American dream. Born into a Jewish family in Russia around the turn of the twentieth century, Polly immigrated to the United States just before World War I. Young and in need of a way to support herself, Polly tried a number of trades before she was pulled into the world of brothels, madams, and sex. Before long, Polly was a madam herself, running her own bordello patronized by some of the most notable men of New York in the 1920s and 30s. Adler had connections with politicians, mobsters, Hollywood actors, and lived to write her own story in the form of memoirs in the 1950s. A fascinating woman, and a biography that offers a fresh perspective of the iconic Jazz Age.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    A lot of historical context but it was too much at times and bored me

  14. 5 out of 5

    Drea

    Who knew a book about a woman I had never heard of would be so compelling and bring together famous people we all know (FDR, Milton Berle, Desi Arnez) into this incredible picture of life in the early-mid 20th century. What an amazing, complex, relentless woman Polly Adler was! I loved this book. So well researched! I love when I’m reading and learn new things yet am reintroduced to familiar names and events tying them all together. This book is long - and packed with details and info - I found a Who knew a book about a woman I had never heard of would be so compelling and bring together famous people we all know (FDR, Milton Berle, Desi Arnez) into this incredible picture of life in the early-mid 20th century. What an amazing, complex, relentless woman Polly Adler was! I loved this book. So well researched! I love when I’m reading and learn new things yet am reintroduced to familiar names and events tying them all together. This book is long - and packed with details and info - I found all of it captivating. This is the book I didn’t know I needed to read and am so glad I did! Highly recommend! Heartfelt thanks to Doubleday for the advanced copy. Go read this book! So fascinating!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Gail O'Connor

    I felt that the book was based more upon US history and not of Polly Adler I was quite disappointed. I'm sure however that many people will enjoy this book. I had to put it down. Could not keep my interest. I felt that the book was based more upon US history and not of Polly Adler I was quite disappointed. I'm sure however that many people will enjoy this book. I had to put it down. Could not keep my interest.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Megargee

    Pulitzer prize winning historian Debby Applegate's biography of notorious madam Polly Adler is a social history of New York City during the Jazz Age as seen through the prism of prostitution. Adler, who immigrated from Russia to escape the pogroms at 13, landed alone at Ellis Island in 1913 with no money and little formal education. Starting out as a sweat shop seamstress, she worked her way up to becoming the city's most notorious madam. In the 1930s and 1940s, Polly's houses provided neutral g Pulitzer prize winning historian Debby Applegate's biography of notorious madam Polly Adler is a social history of New York City during the Jazz Age as seen through the prism of prostitution. Adler, who immigrated from Russia to escape the pogroms at 13, landed alone at Ellis Island in 1913 with no money and little formal education. Starting out as a sweat shop seamstress, she worked her way up to becoming the city's most notorious madam. In the 1930s and 1940s, Polly's houses provided neutral ground where the corrupt politicians of Tammany Hall, the Broadway glitterati, bandleaders, notorious gangsters, and members of Murder Inc. could mingle with film stars, actors, socialites and members of the Algonquin Round Table. Applegate's 550 page tome, researched over 13 years, details Adler's years-long bribery of the authorities, her ties to mob figures such as Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, and Legs Diamond, her relations with prominent politicians, and her investigation by the Seabury Commission. Written in the NY vernacular of the time and heavily larded with direct quotations, Adler presents a not only panoramic picture of the seamy side of NYC in first half of the 20th century, but also a wealth of fascinating details. (For example, Polly had to provide Joe DiMaggio with cotton sheets because his knees slipped on her usual satin bedclothes.)

  17. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    This book is quite thorough. I loved reading about the mob scene and show business. I was also fascinated reading how many people in powerful positions frequented brothels, though not surprised. I found the parts about New York politics to drag on unnecessarily.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lissa Revenew

    Really 2.5 mired down in quotes by people I didn’t know or could keep track of. Too detailed in dropping names. Extensively researched but went on tangents a lot.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Terry Audette weiss

    Could not get into this book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Helen

    An American Legend In the first half of the 20th Century, Polly Adler was a household name, thanks to the dead tree gossip columns that preceded social media. While there were many famous madams throughout history, this Russian Immigrant managed to elevate the profession on brothelkeeper to celebrity status. In her day, Polly Adler was as well known as any film star or society belle. She was the queen of the Manhattan madams, an intimate of everyone from sociopath gangsters to scions of billionai An American Legend In the first half of the 20th Century, Polly Adler was a household name, thanks to the dead tree gossip columns that preceded social media. While there were many famous madams throughout history, this Russian Immigrant managed to elevate the profession on brothelkeeper to celebrity status. In her day, Polly Adler was as well known as any film star or society belle. She was the queen of the Manhattan madams, an intimate of everyone from sociopath gangsters to scions of billionaire families and everyone in between. She didn’t just run a bordello, she had a salon with some of the most polished New Yorkers to ever eat lunch at the Algonquin. At the Dawn of feminism and the opening legitimacy of sex work, she lead a life both sad and satisfying. If not on her own terms, at least enough to elevate her into legend. A compelling read about an interesting time and woman.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Baker

    3.5 Well-researched, informative but tends to drag towards the end

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tina Rae

    So. This one took me a hot minute to read but it was honestly so worth it!! I have always been particularly fascinated by the jazz era and the criminal underground that went with it and I am always excited to read more about it! I hadn’t heard of Polly Adler going into this one though many of her colleagues have been immortalized through films and television. I really loved finding familiar names while reading this one, particularly ones featured in Boardwalk Empire! But anyway, I learned a lot fr So. This one took me a hot minute to read but it was honestly so worth it!! I have always been particularly fascinated by the jazz era and the criminal underground that went with it and I am always excited to read more about it! I hadn’t heard of Polly Adler going into this one though many of her colleagues have been immortalized through films and television. I really loved finding familiar names while reading this one, particularly ones featured in Boardwalk Empire! But anyway, I learned a lot from this! I think I enjoyed Polly’s early years the most. I didn’t realize how bad anti Semitism was in Russia during this era so that was a learning experience. Plus it’s just so fascinating to see America through the eyes of an immigrant. Especially with how much immigration has changed in the last hundred years. So. I really enjoyed this book. The only problem, for me, was the writing style. I tend to struggle with biographies just because they are typically more of an info dump and feel a little impersonal. This one definitely suffers from that and that’s one reason why it took me so long to read it. But that’s more a problem with the genre and my own tastes than the fault of the book. Overall though, I really liked this! I learned a lot and it was great to read more about someone who had achieved notoriety in her day but who has been all but lost to history because her profession was deemed ~unsavory. I wish there were more books like this. If you’re looking to read more nonfiction, I highly recommend this one!! And thank you to Doubleday for sending a copy of this my way in exchange for an honest review!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    This book surprised me. After reading several books about gangsters in America and watching many award-winning movies of the same genre, how did I not know anything about Polly Adler? This book touches on that a bit, by pointing out how women are often left out in our history. Of course, given her line of work, Polly Adler endeavored to stay out of the lime-light and be anonymous most of the time. Debby Applegate is a fine writer, she's already a Pulitzer Prize winner for her other book. This biogra This book surprised me. After reading several books about gangsters in America and watching many award-winning movies of the same genre, how did I not know anything about Polly Adler? This book touches on that a bit, by pointing out how women are often left out in our history. Of course, given her line of work, Polly Adler endeavored to stay out of the lime-light and be anonymous most of the time. Debby Applegate is a fine writer, she's already a Pulitzer Prize winner for her other book. This biography flows like a nonfiction page turner. Polly Adler was an intelligent, yet poorly educated European immigrant who was sent to America in 1913 at the tender age of 13. She faced many hard circumstances and made her choices as she saw fit. In a span of about 20 years her life intermingles with the higher ups in many worlds: gangsters, entertainers, politicos, and high-society. This book names names and provides pictures. The Happy Hooker from the 1970s has nothing on Polly! This book is full of surprises and I felt that pang of sadness we readers often feel after finishing a good read!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Great read! Well researched. I love reading about the 1920s, read lots of bios and memoirs from that period. So I had read "A House Is Not a Home" many years ago. Still, I didn't know much about Polly Adler. Her autobiography as I remember it was interesting but not very complete or satisfying. That's what makes "Madam" such a find! It puts Polly in her time and place, talks about her friends and enemies and family. It fills in the blanks enough to see why Polly would choose madam of a house of p Great read! Well researched. I love reading about the 1920s, read lots of bios and memoirs from that period. So I had read "A House Is Not a Home" many years ago. Still, I didn't know much about Polly Adler. Her autobiography as I remember it was interesting but not very complete or satisfying. That's what makes "Madam" such a find! It puts Polly in her time and place, talks about her friends and enemies and family. It fills in the blanks enough to see why Polly would choose madam of a house of prostitution as a career. It's clear there's lots of solid research in "Madam," from lots of angles: family, friends, customers, literati, celebrities. Puts everything in the context of the politics, laws and culture in NYC in the Twenties. The book flows. Very well written. Good read for anyone who likes biographies, life in New York in the first half of the 1900s, show business, a good story about an interesting life.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Gregg Koskela

    Applegate takes meticulous research and exceptional historical context, and weaves together a tale that draws one in like a novel. The topic of a madam in the gangster-laden, politically corrupt Prohibition Era is not one of interest to me…and the double standards and double lives, all carefully colluded and maintained by journalists and law enforcement, was incredibly depressing to read for the first half or two-thirds of the book. It’s worth it to read Applegate’s assessment of why gangsters f Applegate takes meticulous research and exceptional historical context, and weaves together a tale that draws one in like a novel. The topic of a madam in the gangster-laden, politically corrupt Prohibition Era is not one of interest to me…and the double standards and double lives, all carefully colluded and maintained by journalists and law enforcement, was incredibly depressing to read for the first half or two-thirds of the book. It’s worth it to read Applegate’s assessment of why gangsters finally were brought down, and how the New Deal was designed in part to remove the power of infamous Tammany Hall. It’s worth it to reflect on the unintended consequences of legally trying to outlaw vice, and how secrecy and public cultivation of image actually give power to crime and vice.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ron Crooks

    Debby Applegate describes (to some degree) how challenging it was for her to access information about Polly Adler in the end notes of the book, but the book doesn't read that way at all. "Madam" is a fantastic story of an age, and of an immigrant, and of a child, and of a woman...and it could easily pass as fiction. I think, most compelling of all, Applegate (without judgement) delves into a life lived in the margins; Polly had few choices and no one on whom she could depend and somehow, against Debby Applegate describes (to some degree) how challenging it was for her to access information about Polly Adler in the end notes of the book, but the book doesn't read that way at all. "Madam" is a fantastic story of an age, and of an immigrant, and of a child, and of a woman...and it could easily pass as fiction. I think, most compelling of all, Applegate (without judgement) delves into a life lived in the margins; Polly had few choices and no one on whom she could depend and somehow, against all odds, created a personae and a viable brand through sheer will and determination. Although the book tends to slog a bit along the way with a lot of (occasionally redundant) detail about gangsters, law enforcement and legal authorities on the take, and her nomadic existence, it's a great ride.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

    A bio focusing primarily on the 20s as the year turned to 22? Perfect. A book about scandal and corruption as the engine of society and politics? Perfectly apropos. An immigrant tale about how hard it is to make good the respectable way? Still pretty spot on… One of the best quotations comes from the last page: “But Americans have little appetite for examining the dreary mechanics behind the spectacle of our dreams…Perhaps Polly’s story is better suited to this 21st century, when there is urgent A bio focusing primarily on the 20s as the year turned to 22? Perfect. A book about scandal and corruption as the engine of society and politics? Perfectly apropos. An immigrant tale about how hard it is to make good the respectable way? Still pretty spot on… One of the best quotations comes from the last page: “But Americans have little appetite for examining the dreary mechanics behind the spectacle of our dreams…Perhaps Polly’s story is better suited to this 21st century, when there is urgent interest in exposing the intersections of sex and power, and dismantling the conspiracies of silence that protect powerful people from bearing the full cost of their desires.”

  28. 4 out of 5

    Wil A. Emerson

    Debby Applegate does a great job of exploring one working woman's success in a circle of ruthless men. As she delves into Polly Adler's life you learn just as much about political history, New York City and it's shady deals as you do about the woman who had her hand in the business of selling sexual favors. The notorious people who indulged in street pleasure will remind you that politics, crime and lust are not strange bedfellows. Love Polly for her honesty...she knew what she was doing. Appleg Debby Applegate does a great job of exploring one working woman's success in a circle of ruthless men. As she delves into Polly Adler's life you learn just as much about political history, New York City and it's shady deals as you do about the woman who had her hand in the business of selling sexual favors. The notorious people who indulged in street pleasure will remind you that politics, crime and lust are not strange bedfellows. Love Polly for her honesty...she knew what she was doing. Applegate did a worthy job of defining history. A good read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    Excellent A feminist exploration of the life and times of the 20th century’s most famous madam. From rags to riches to retirement, Polly’s story, as conveyed by Ms. Applegate, is one of a poor, uneducated immigrant who found a way (admittedly outside the law) to survive and thrive. As Applegate points out, men who did this are today lionized, but women are not. Let this biography be the beginning of a change in that custom!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Susan Wakula

    Riveting in its description of the excesses of the Jazz Age in New York City. But what city or time period doesn't have its excesses? Let's celebrate those for tomorrow it all could end. Polly's life is fascinating and oh, so human, with strong feminism as its undercurrent. After 460-ish pages of stories of prostitution, gangs, and bloodshed, the strongest point to the whole book comes in the final two pages. Women should be using our sexual power. We could change the world. Riveting in its description of the excesses of the Jazz Age in New York City. But what city or time period doesn't have its excesses? Let's celebrate those for tomorrow it all could end. Polly's life is fascinating and oh, so human, with strong feminism as its undercurrent. After 460-ish pages of stories of prostitution, gangs, and bloodshed, the strongest point to the whole book comes in the final two pages. Women should be using our sexual power. We could change the world.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...