Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Island of Vice

Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-loving New York
Richard Zacks

Okay, I don't usually do this: write a review of a book I haven't finished reading. But today is a first for me. I just couldn't finish Island of Vice. I tried for two weeks and kept reading (or doing) other things. I made it to page 215 out of 365.

The subject itself is fascinating: Teddy Roosevelt, New York City, and corrupt politics. Somehow, it just didn't work for me. Perhaps partly because, after reading the title, I know it is not going to work. Roosevelt will try to clean up New York and fail. He will later become president but the ending to this book will not be a happy one.

I think another reason I couldn't get into Island of Vice is because Zacks didn't really have a protagonist that the reader could relate to or cheer for. He writes as though he is a journalist trying to give an unbiased viewpoint but it is obvious he has an agenda. Zacks clearly does not like Roosevelt. He keeps saying Roosevelt always saw everything in black and white, good or bad. Although he does give him credit for being a wonderfully moral man, he also seems to be ridiculing him for his goodness. And what is with calling him TR when everyone else gets their last name printed? That might have been good before being edited but it sounds disrespectful to Roosevelt. At the same time, Zacks seems to love New York -- including the seedier side of the city. Corrupt politicians seem to be just part of the whole package for Zacks. The corrupt policemen are doing a good job with real crime is the message Zacks seems to be giving. Sorry, but I just don't have that love for New York.

What did this book have to do with my faith? One of the most controversial problems Roosevelt was faced with was enforcing the law which closed saloons on Sundays. Although this clearly was the biggest disadvantage for the working class (the rich could go to clubs and hotels which were somehow not included or at least overlooked), the point was that Roosevelt was trying to uphold the law. The law came from the state legislature, not from Roosevelt. This made me think about how our laws often mirror or try to uphold religious morals. I wondered how much having certain laws helped Christians to act like Christians. Is having a law going to really make a difference? As I get older, I have more and more doubts about that. I see hypocritical behavior from upstanding Christians -- those in the media as well as those I know. I think about how God wanted God's laws written on our hearts and how Jesus really simplified the commandments into love. If we love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, won't we be acting in a moral manner? That isn't to say we shouldn' have laws but we also should not expect our laws to produce good Christians.

I don't recommend Island of Vice. However, if you do read it and finish it, please let me know!

Happy reading,


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