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

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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.


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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. 4 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. 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.

  4. 4 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

  5. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Zemeckis

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

  6. 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.

  7. 4 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!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Baker

    3.5 we’ll-researched, informative but tends to drag towards the end

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Whitehead

    great read! Highly recommend! Terrific book that I enjoyed reading! It was about more than Polly Adler, which is an interesting topic in itself. The story included much about what was going on in New York during the early part of the previous century - Tammney Hall, Prohibition and such. The author did a terrific job of tying it all together. Highly recommend!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tammy Buchli

    I enjoyed this book, although it was really less of a personal bio of Adler and more a generalized history of Jazz Age New York with a focus on the vice trades. Interesting, but I didn't truly get the feeling that I got to know Adler as much as I would prefer in a biography. That said, I have read Adler's autobiography (written and published in the late '50s - early '60s, so it was very nice to read a less sanitized and curated version. Thanks to NetGalley for providing an ARC copy for my review. I enjoyed this book, although it was really less of a personal bio of Adler and more a generalized history of Jazz Age New York with a focus on the vice trades. Interesting, but I didn't truly get the feeling that I got to know Adler as much as I would prefer in a biography. That said, I have read Adler's autobiography (written and published in the late '50s - early '60s, so it was very nice to read a less sanitized and curated version. Thanks to NetGalley for providing an ARC copy for my review.

  13. 4 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.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    A true rags to riches story of a hard working woman's life from 1900 through the 1960's. From politicians to mobsters, she definitely names names... A true rags to riches story of a hard working woman's life from 1900 through the 1960's. From politicians to mobsters, she definitely names names...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Clare S. Terry

  16. 5 out of 5

    Joe

  17. 4 out of 5

    Diane Rosland

  18. 4 out of 5

    Fergie

  19. 4 out of 5

    Susan

  20. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Luty

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mbk

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jo Ann L. Sears

  23. 5 out of 5

    Christina

  24. 5 out of 5

    Al Smith

  25. 4 out of 5

    carol mahnke

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ilse

  27. 4 out of 5

    Doubleday Books

  28. 5 out of 5

    Linda Harris

  29. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  30. 5 out of 5

    douglas robinson

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