The ''Water for Elephants'' author likes ''Sin in the Second City'' by Karen Abbott

By Sara Gruen
Updated August 17, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

A book recommendation from Sara Gruen

I recommend Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott, the true story of the Everleigh Club, America’s most famous brothel, which operated in Chicago in the early 1900s. The club’s madams were Ada and Minna Everleigh, sisters with mysterious pasts who furnished their bordello with a $15,000 gold piano, mirrored floors, and a fountain with a jet that squirted perfume into the air. Theodore Dreiser, John Barrymore, and visiting royalty were entertained by stunning courtesans who would discuss politics, recite Longfellow, or devour raw meat, depending on the client’s preferences. The Everleigh sisters redefined the ”sporting life” and soon had a nationwide waiting list of applicants. Their success created such jealousy within Chicago’s Levee district that the other madams went so far as to try to frame them for murder, among other things. Abbott’s writing is exquisite and her reporting first-rate, making this forgotten slice of American history come alive. It reads like the very best fiction, but the tale of the Everleigh Club is too fantastical to make up.