cover image The Flash Press: Sporting Male Weeklies in 1840s New York

The Flash Press: Sporting Male Weeklies in 1840s New York

Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Timothy J. Gilfoyle, Patricia Cline Cohen. University of Chicago Press, $20 (278pp) ISBN 978-0-226-11234-3

Cohen, Gilfoyle and Horowitz, history professors and chroniclers of 19th-century American sexuality, offer an engaging scholarly examination of the little-known weekly newspapers that reported on the sexual underworld of 1840s New York. Such journals as the Whip, the Weekly Rake, and the Sunday Flash used the posture of moral reform-""criticizing"" brothels, prostitution and vice-as a thinly-veiled sleight to inform its readership exactly where to get the action. Unlike the purely erotic periodicals to follow in later decades, these papers' political agendas used ""sex to attack privilege and hypocrisy"" until they were shut down in 1843 by New York's deeply conservative judiciary. A glimpse into a ""spectacle of modern Sodom"" featuring hoop-skirted madams and top-hatted gents, the authors' detailed history of the ""flash press"" benefits from original illustrations and text-a full half of the book is devoted to excerpts, with minimal commentary. Less successful are academic divergences, which at times get so dry one forgets the authors' subjects. A thorough account of this quirky, salacious moment in journalism, readers familiar with New York will find a city both foreign and familiar, and a sense that the local weekly used to be a lot more fun.