The city of New Orleans, Louisiana stirs up images of the French Quarter, Jackson Square and delicious food. It also stirs up the memories of a corrupt town where not so long ago one could find just about anything one’s black heart desired. In the book Empire of Sin, New York Times Bestselling author Gary Krist explores the battle New Orleans fought against itself for thirty years.
Empire of Sin importantly focuses on the blatant racism held within New Orleans. In the thirty-year period the book covers, both Italians and African Americans were subject to hangings by vigilantes, which is to say nothing of the bandying about of racial epithets and destruction of local businesses. New Orleans was not immune to Jim Crow laws, even if many citizens did their best to move around these and continue their businesses. Still, hatred and murder ran rampant under the guise of law.
One of the most popular businesses in New Orleans was prostitution. Empire of Sin discusses Josie Arlington, one of the most famous Madames of all time, as well as her deep desires to look respectable to the community and her beloved niece. Doing business with Tom Anderson, the politician and businessman known as the “Czar of Storyville,” the two prospered with a mutual understanding that drinking and prostitution go hand in hand. Storyville was the name for the area of New Orleans where prostitution was not prosecuted and became the center of sin. The book also talks about other Madames, including Lulu White.
In addition to all of this, jazzmen such as Jelly Roll Morton, Buddy Bolden and little Louis Armstrong also grace the pages. The tales of how these legends were shaped by New Orleans are fascinating. The city claims to have been the birth place of jazz; a title it takes seriously to this day.
Empire of Sin begins and ends with the story of the Ax Man. This killer terrorized New Orleans with crimes that involved attacks under cover of darkness, always with an Ax. The crimes are still legendary, especially after it was reported that if citizens played jazz, the killer would not sneak in to kill the residents of a home.
Empire of Sin combines the best aspects of a History book; it is easy to read, dedicated to a fascinating subject and just long enough to feel respectable in mixed company. Gary Krist excels at making the material easy to understand and remember. He also takes his quoting and references seriously, including about 13 pages of a bibliography at the end of the book for future research and pages of notes. If you like your History lurid, look no further than the past of New Orleans.
Empire of Sin is now available where books are sold.
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