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The Devil's Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square Hardcover – March 16, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (March 16, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375507884
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375507885
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,219,854 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The first part of Traub's learned cultural history focuses on Times Square (originally Longacre Square before it was renamed in 1904) when it was the center of New York'sâ€"and the nation'sâ€"entertainment industry. Evoking the Runyonesque worlds of vaudeville, burlesque, speakeasies, gangsters and molls, the author provides lots of glamorous information about old Times Square and its most recognizable inventionâ€"oversized electronic signs or "spectaculars." Part two opens in the 1970s after Hollywood, suburbanization and television had marginalized live entertainment and its capital, turning Times Square into a haven for drug dealers and prostitutes, "a disease to be cured." This section, on the rebirth of Times Square, is particularly valuable for showing how private interests and the public sector joined forces to create a capital for corporatized fun. In part three, some readers may become impatient with Traub's tortured indecision about whether to enjoy this weird, overblown world, as his 11-year-old son does, or to decry it as a plot by global capitalism, as well as with his tendency to obsessively analyze the place (he visits Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum with a professor who's "a deconstructionist, or perhaps a postdeconstructionist"). Despite the sometimes overly intellectual approach, this book should appeal to those looking for some of the joy and excitement that even the new "sanitized" Times Square has to offer.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Traub has made a career out of writing about New York and its institutions. He has the right: he lives and breathes the city, and his prose tumbles out sparkling and effortless. His history of Times Square--its name was changed from Longacre Square in the spring of 1904 for the newspaper headquartered there--is a vivid and remarkably nonjudgmental tale. The "iron law" of Times Square, he writes, is "real estate turned to its most profitable use," and he carries that idea from rooftop gardens, vaudeville, and the magical year of 1927 through the speakeasies and nightclubs of the 1930s to the sinkhole of the 1970s and the square's current incarnation as the site of a family carnival. He doesn't miss a character--what made Times Square happen were personalities from reporter Walter Winchell and nightclub queen Texas Guinan to designer Tibor Kalman and the real estate Dursts. He segues smoothly from the assignations of boxer Primo Carnera at the Forrest Hotel to the effect of crowds on MTV's Total Request Live. He pauses in his archaeological reconstruction long enough to marvel at the length and depth of Irving Berlin's career and to admire the Ferris wheel inside the Toys R Us store. A fabulous read that quite nearly captures the "gorgeous disarray" and "epic higgedly piggedly" of the world's gathering place. For other slices of New York life, see Donna Seaman's Read-alike column, "Walkabout, New York Style," in the February 1, 2004, Booklist. GraceAnne DeCandido
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

It's informative, very well-written and a hell of a lot of fun.
Buckeye
Traub has done a great job of researching and documenting the history of a place that does it's best to bury it's past.
R. J. Marsella
If you ever wanted to read the history and get acquainted with its past then this book has it all.
PATRICK J.POWERS

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Patricia A. Marx on March 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Times Square has it all-history, entertainment, great characters, crime, sex-and so does The Devil's Playground. As a New Yorker who has always been fascinated by Times Square, I picked the book up in a book store, intending only to browse. I couldn't put it down (but did eventually to pay for it). This is a wonderful and thoroughly absorbing book that will educate you without pain, not to mention provide you with lots of amusing anecdotes to use at dinner parties.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By R. J. Marsella on January 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book really captures the characters, glamour, degradation and rebirth of Times Square since it's beginnings in a very entertaining and informative way. The story is weaved together wonderfully incorporating social, political , cultural and architectural details in a lively narrative that was a pleasure to read. From the Lobster Palaces to Flo Ziegfield to the speakeasys of the 20's to Irving Berlin to the tawdry porno theaters and massage parlors of the 70's to todays tourist mecca....it's all here. Traub has done a great job of researching and documenting the history of a place that does it's best to bury it's past. You can walk those mid-town streets after reading this and recognize historical significance that is all too easy to take for granted in a place as busy and bustling as Times Square.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Buckeye on September 9, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a hugely entertaining read that I enjoyed primarily from a 'history of New York City' perspective. Others with interests in the history of culture, broadway, etc. will also find this a great book to read. It's informative, very well-written and a hell of a lot of fun. But if there was ever a book that NEEDED pictures, this is it. The fact that there aren't is immensely disappointing. So many colorful people, places and events so well described and not a single photograph of anything. Very, very puzzling. I'd give it five stars were it not for this glaring omission.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
James Traub has penned an energetic paean to the world's most famous (and occasionally infamous) "square."
Although some readers may be put off by a sometimes dry and overly-academic writing style, Traub more than makes up for it with a dazzling synthesis of sociological history, political intrigue, architectural evolution and brilliant sketches of the giddy early days of advertising. It may surprise some to know that the Square was awash in luminous and neon-drenched marketing mirages as early as the first decade of the 20th century.
Through it all, the pulsing adrenaline charge experienced by a walk through Times Square saturates this unique work. This reviewer was reminded of Saul Bellow's incomparable descriptive flourish from Seize the Day:
"On Broadway it was still bright afternoon and the gassy air was almost motionless under the leaden spokes of sunlight, and sawdust footprints lay about the doorways of butcher shops and fruit stores. And the great, great crowd, the inexhaustible current of millions of every race and kind pouring out, pressing round, of every age, of every genius, possessors of every human secret, antique and future, in every face the refinement of one particular motive or essence -- I labor, I spend, I strive, I design, I love, I cling, I uphold, I give way, I envy, I long, I scorn, I die, I hide, I want. Faster, much faster than any man could make the tally. The sidewalks were wider than any causeway; the street itself was immense, and it quaked and gleamed and it seemed ... to throb at the last limit of endurance."
Amen.
You'll feel all of that and more in this worthy book.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Rocco Dormarunno on April 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
James Traub's wonderful book, "The Devil's Playground : A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square" will provide readers with a comprehensive look at what was once the crossroads of the world. Scholarly without being dull, authoritative without being smug, Traub vividly portrays the rise, fall, and ambivalent revival of the world's center of amusement and advertising. I say "ambivalent" not because I disapprove of the transition which took place in the 1990s (anyone nostalgic for the "personality" of post 1960s Times Square is oblivious to the misery of the prostitutes and addicts who were stuck there) but because it smacks too much of outsiders moving in. But, as Mr. Traub suggests, we needed people from outside New York to believe that the place could be rehabilitated--we New Yorkers had given up on it after all.
All the familiar characters are here (Hammerstein, Runyon, et al.) and some new ones that we don't always associate with the former Longacre Square. And some of the events described in this book will surprise even the most "seasoned" of New York buffs. The book is as entertaining as the place once was and now strives to be.
"The Devil's Playground" is the perfect antidote to the many flawed books about Times Square--in particular the error-riddled "Down 42nd" by Marc Eliot. It is well worth the read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Patricia A. Marx on April 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Times Square has it all-history, entertainment, great characters, crime, sex-and so does The Devil's Playground. As a New Yorker who has always been fascinated by Times Square, I picked the book up in a book store, intending only to browse. I couldn't put it down (but did eventually to pay for it). This is a wonderful and thoroughly absorbing book that will educate you without pain, not to mention provide you with lots of amusing anecdotes to use at dinner parties.
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