by Gary Krist
I love books about the seedier sides of history. They just make good narratives. And yes, sex sells. So I loved this book that covers the story of New Orleans around the turn of the century, covering things like Storyville, the birth of jazz, corrupt politics, and a potential serial killer. Empire of Sin paints a broad picture of specific parts of New
While Krist covers lots of territory here, he maintains a compelling narrative. True, there’s not necessarily a thru line in the sense that we don’t have any one story that seems to tie all the others together, although some of the politicians get pretty close. Still, his pacing is spot on. I never began to feel bored, which is particularly impressive for me with audiobooks. It’s easy for me to space out every once in a while.
I am strangely compelled by stories of historical serial killers, so the section of the book about the possible ax murder was my favorite. Those interested in H.H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper would also find this section interesting, though I wouldn’t have minded even a little more on this case. It did cement the fact that I am apparently afraid of murders from the past. I listened to this part of book while falling asleep and had to continue until the section was finished, because I was pretty sure otherwise I would have had weird nightmares. I have never pretended to be normal.
Sections of the book covering Storyville didn’t necessarily offer me any new information. I wouldn’t have minded this section to have some more anecdotes like Sin in the Second City. Storyville is one of the most iconic parts of New Orleans from this time period, and I would have liked to dig even further into this. Also, I’m not gonna lie; I’m interested in books that explore the history of prostitution.
While I admittedly don’t know much about the history of jazz, I think Krist covers it pretty well. This is where he does the best with anecdotes. But it should be established this is not a history of the musical evolution of jazz, rather the main characters in its creation in New Orleans, and how it played into the story of New Orleans.
As always, I loved hearing about the moral pushback against everything. And I think it would have been even further illustrated with more information on what the majority of New Orleans was like at this time. What was expected of most people? What did the general world around these distracts looks like? I think it only would have reinforced everything explored throughout.