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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. Simply put: Everybody came to 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. 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. Simply put: Everybody came to 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. 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.

38 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. 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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Giveaway Win!

  4. 5 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mbk

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bragg

  9. 4 out of 5

    Penny

  10. 5 out of 5

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  15. 5 out of 5

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  37. 5 out of 5

    Karine Kersh

  38. 4 out of 5

    Nanette

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