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A Sinful History of New Orleans

Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans - Gary Krist

I received this book free through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer's program.

 

The virtuous reforming of New Orleans over the course of thirty years is chronicled through the lives of a few reformers, but mostly through the lives of the purveyors of vice in Gary Krist’s “Empire of Sin”.  The book is a riveting history of the colorful life of the Crescent City that was, and still is, unique in both Southern and American cultural history.

 

Krist brings New Orleans of the 1890s into clear focus at the beginning of the moral crusade, detailing the how the city’s French and Spanish beginnings created a unique cultural atmosphere that created an environment that the social and business elite of the city found needing reform.  Krist’s narrative takes place in four phases (1890-1, 1896-1907, 1907-17, and 1917-20) in which he identifies one defining moment that resulted in a change towards the reformer’s goal of cleaning up the city.  Throughout the book, the vice career of Tom Anderson is highlighted and how his fortunes showed either the progress or staling of the reform movement in the city.

 

Throughout the book, Krist ably shows how on event that surrounded on group of individuals had ramifications on various aspects of life in New Orleans.  One examples is how when reformers concentrate prostitution and other vice industries into one area, they inadvertently created an incubator where jazz was able to be cultivated into a new musical art form.  In connecting his entire historical narrative together in readable prose, Krist hooks the reader quickly and never lets him go.

 

After the reformers finally succeed in their quest to clean up New Orleans, Krist gives a short aftermath which ironically saw the city eventually embrace it’s sinful past to market to tourists and conventions.  The irony isn’t lost on the reader who can understand some of the motivations of reformers, particularly ending political and police corruption, but cringe at the stripping of civil rights of numerous groups throughout the narrative.  “Empire of Sin” shows the uniqueness of New Orleans history that is an very enjoyable read and is highly recommended those who enjoy history.