THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square

James Traub, Author . Random $25.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-375-50788-5

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's—and the nation's—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 invention—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. (Mar. 23)

FYI: Traub is a contributor to the New York Times Magazine and the New Yorker.

Reviewed on: 02/16/2004
Release date: 03/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 195 pages - 978-0-307-43213-1
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-375-75978-9
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