If you haven’t been able to tell by my previous blog post, New Orleans was a place that left me spellbound, captivated by the surrounding sights and intrigued to learn more about the history of such an eclectic, eccentric world.
I picked up Gary Krist’s “Empire of Sin” at the “Librairie Bookshop” on Chartres Street; The cover resembled the style and tone of “Devil in the White City” so I cashed out and dove right in as soon as I sat down for lunch at “Café Amelie.” Although it took me a little while longer to read, it was hardly due to the book itself but other obligations that took precedence this month.
The fascinating narrative interwove stories of 1890- 1920 happenings in New Orleans, and the storyteller undoubtedly did his research in painting an accurate picture.
“Empire of Sin” is a work of nonfiction, adhering strictly to the historical record and incorporating no invented dialogue or other undocumented re-creations. Unless otherwise attributed, anything between quotation marks is either actual dialogue (as reported by a witness or in a newspaper) or else a citation from a memoir, book, letter, police report, court transcript, or other document, as cited in the endnotes.” – Author’s Note, “Empire of Sin”
Although the book was a factual account, the content was not bland in subject or delivery. Krist did an outstanding job of ensuring that storylines remained relevant, characters were accurately depicted, and the triumphs and tribulations of the city really resonated with the reader.
There are some things that we all know about New Orleans- We know that Jazz music is a city staple. We know that Mardi Gras is celebrated in town annually and Bourbon Street is a 24/7 party. But this book highlights where and how the culture emerged and evolved; It references a district of New Orleans called Storyville where vice was tolerated, in effort to compartmentalize prostitution, drinking, gambling, etc. instead of allowing it to run rampant in the city. The book introduces the reader to some of the earliest known Jazz, or “Jass” artists beyond Louis Armstrong (although he is present here) such as Jelly Roll Morton, Buddy Bolden, and Joe Oliver; it explains lyric themes, influences, sound trends and more.
My favorite part about the book, though, was the way that the author expertly cast light on the darker shadows of the city; exposed murder cases and instances of injustice, portrayed details that were 100% factual but eerie, nonetheless. I liked that sinister accounts were sprinkled throughout the entirety of the book, but the Axman case emerged at its climax. At the end of the story, I felt satisfied- I was appropriately introduced to so many different characters, that any more context would have been overload- but I yearned to do some more research on the more intriguing citizens after I closed the book.
FINAL SCORE: 3.5: Very rarely do I call historical nonfiction books “easy reads,” but this one is a definite exception. I now know what it’s a New York Times bestseller- Gary Krist has a knack for storytelling and I am adding “City of Scoundrels,” and others, to my Goodreads list.
BEST FOR: Travel Enthusiasts, Mystery Fans, History Buffs
NOT GOOD FOR: Those Who Don’t Care To Take A Blast Into The Past
IF THIS BOOK/ AUTHOR WAS A HIGH SCHOOL STEREOTYPE: The Passionate History Teacher
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