top of page
Sin in the Second City Book Cover


Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul

"Poetic... Abbott describes the Levee's characters in such detail that it's easy to mistake this meticulously researched history for literary fiction."

— The New York Times Book Review


Step into the perfumed parlors of the Everleigh Club, the most famous brothel in American history—and a catalyst for a culture war that rocked the nation. Minna and Ada Everleigh, the two sisters who operated the Club at the dawn of the last century, were unlike other madams: The Everleighs made sure their girls dined on gourmet food, were examined by an honest physician, and even tutored in the literature of Balzac.

But not everyone appreciated the sisters' attempts to elevate the industry...

Rival madams in Chicago's Levee hatched numerous schemes to ruin the Everleighs, including an attempt to frame them for the death of department store heir Marshall Field Jr. But the sisters' most daunting foes were the Progressive Era reformers, who whipped the entire country into a frenzy with lurid tales of "white slavery"—the allegedly rampant practice of kidnapping young girls and forcing them into brothels. It was a furor that shaped America's sexual culture, and had repercussions all the way to the White House, including the formation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

With a real-life cast of characters including Jack Johnson, Edgar Lee Masters, John D. Rockefeller Jr., William Howard Taft, and Al Capone, Sin in the Second City is a colorful, nuanced portrait of the iconic Everleigh sisters, their world-famous Club, and the perennial clash between our hedonistic impulses and Puritanical roots. Culminating in a dramatic last stand between brothel keepers and crusading reformers, Sin in the Second City offers a vivid snapshot of America's journey from Victorian era propriety to 20th century modernity.

Praise for Sin in the Second City

The Wall Street Journal

"Lavish... Described with scrupulous concern for historical accuracy... an immensely readable book."

The New York Times

Assiduously researched... Even this book's minutiae makes for good storytelling."

Chicago Tribune Magazine (cover story)

"Once upon a time, Chicago had a world-class bordello called The Everleigh Club. Karen Abbott brings the opulent place and its raunchy era alive in a book that just might become this year's The Devil in the White City."

USA Today

"[A] satisfyingly lurid tale... Karen Abbott has pioneered sizzle history... Change the hemlines, add 100 years, and the book could be filed under current affairs."

The Seattle Times

"[Abbott's] research enables the kind of vivid description à la fellow journalist Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City that makes what could be a dry historic account an engaging read."

The Atlanta Journal Constitution

"A colorful history of old Chicago that reads like a novel... [a] compelling and eloquent story."

More Nonfiction Titles

bottom of page