Madam, Debby Applegate’s tour de force about Jazz Age icon Polly Adler, will seize you by the lapels, buy you a drink, and keep you reading until the very last page. Applegate’s brilliant research and cinematic prose made me feel I was peering over Adler’s shoulder, watching her drift through the parlor of her brownstone establishment, wisecracking with the Mob and paying off the cops. Madam is a judicious exploration of the dark side of the American Dream, and Applegate is a lively and knowledgeable guide. A treat for fiction and nonfiction fans alike.”
Abbott Kahler, New York Times bestselling author (as Karen Abbott) of Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul andThe Ghosts of Eden Park

“In a time when young women were victimized at every turn, Polly Adler told herself she was improving their odds–and she knew she was improving her own. At last, America’s most notorious madam has found the hard-boiled biographer she deserves. Brilliant, witty, meticulously researched, Debby Applegate’s Madam is a delicious, beautifully written ride through the nocturnal netherworld of jazz-age Manhattan, right into the heart of what we still call, despite everything, the American dream.”
Tom Reiss, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Black Count and The Orientalist

Madam is an astonishing book, a stunning achievement by Debby Applegate who takes the life of Polly Adler, a nice Jewish girl from the Pale of Russia, and uses it to craft a wholly new history of New York in the Jazz Age. Everyone who was anyone seems to have floated through Adler’s high-class bordello—mobsters, corrupt police, powerful Wall Street financiers, blue book Ivy Leaguers, Broadway producers, judges and politicians—and the witty and gracious Adler is always there to grease the deal-making with plenty of boot-legged liquor, live music and desirable women. I am shocked—shocked—by the wanton lust. Applegate names the names, but her thoughtful narrative is not mere exposé but serious history, examining the ‘dreary mechanics’ of the American Dream. Applegate’s Madam is a formidable work in both scholarship and just good writing.”
Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author of The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter

“What was a nice girl from an East European shtetl doing running an elite Manhattan bordello for more than three decades? Read this book, a stunning blend of scholarship and non-stop sex, to find out!”
William Taubman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Khrushchev: The Man and His Era, and of Gorbachev: His Life and Times

“I am in awe. With an extraordinary ear for voice and with deep and impeccable research, Debby Applegate has written a scintillating account of the rise (or was it the fall?) of the preeminent bordello keeper of New York’s Jazz Age, Polly Adler. Frank and discerning without being either lurid or judgmental, Madam is an exquisitely crafted, morally inverted rags-to-riches story of an ambitious but impoverished immigrant woman who saw only one path to the top and resolutely followed it. Like the profession that made its subject notorious, Madam both subtly repels and irresistibly attracts. As her superb descriptions recreate a lost world, Applegate brings us in touch with aspects of human nature that, for good or ill, never seem to change. Polly Adler’s early acquaintances were fond of saying, “When a girl falls, she always lands on her back.” Debby Applegate’s Madam not only lands on its feet; it sticks the landing.”
  John Matteson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father

“[Polly Adler’s] wit and charm made her America’s most famous queen of vice in the Roaring Twenties—and roar they do in Debby Applegate’s fascinating new biography. From Russia’s Pale of Settlement to the Broadway underworld to Hollywood Boulevard, we keep company with Dutch Schultz, the Algonquin Round Table, cops, gamblers, politicians, and Walter Winchell as we follow Adler through her improbable career. Madam rollicks like no biography has rollicked before.” 
T.J. Stiles, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The First Tycoon and Custer’s Trials

“Sometimes notoriety has it all over fame.  I lost count of the aliases, the addresses, and the arrests.  You can’t lose sight of Polly Adler:  Whether charming Robert Benchley, discussing abortionists with Tallulah Bankhead, or comping Desi Arnaz, she nearly leaps–116 pounds of hard-boiled chutzpah–from these pages.  Adler knew about first-class treatment and gets it in this splendid biography, rich with color, exhaustively researched, and bursting with energy.”
Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Witches and Cleopatra

“Impeccably researched, breathlessly written and full-time fun, Madam tells of the story of a tough little girl from Russia who rises in 1920s New York from prostitution to power in the world’s oldest profession. Madam is a marvelous tableau of characters, from regulars and hop heads to millionaires in search of their next girl.”
Michael Shnayerson, author of Bugsy Siegel: The Dark Side of the American Dream

“Polly Adler once said that she had to be a madam because she ‘was never pretty enough to be a hustler.’ The woman that Debby Applegate paints a portrait of in Madam, however, is much more than just pretty, and so much more than just a madam. Applegate tells the tale of an incredible woman, her cup overflowing with ambition, courage, cleverness and guile, who overcomes unimaginable hardship and rises to the very top of her profession – the oldest, in fact – and becomes an icon. Madam tells a story that is larger than just one life – it is a cultural history of America in the first half of the twentieth century, a country that, like Polly Adler, was overflowing with ambition. Madam takes the reader from Ellis Island to the dance halls of Coney Island; from the nightclubs of Broadway to the beachfront hotels of Miami Beach; and from the dingy walls of a jail cell to the highest halls of wealth and power, all with the rhythm of a swinging orchestra.  Debby Applegate has found the perfect American avatar in Polly Adler, and with Madam, she has more than met the challenge of telling the tale. Madam is a riot.”
David Hill, author of The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America’s Forgotten Capital of Vice

“In Madam, Debby Applegate transports us to the much-mythologized but still unknown world of New York’s illicit Jazz-Age sex trade. One part Horatio Alger tale, one part feminist anthem, one part gangster drama, the biography of famed madam Polly Adler straddles the boundaries of legal and illegal, political and personal. In Applegate’s hands, it is one swell party.”
Beverly Gage, author of The Day Wall Street Exploded

“Astonishing. . . In effervescent writing, Applegate chronicles how Adler, after escaping anti-Semitic Russia for New York City in 1913, survived judgmental relatives, sweatshop work, and rape before stumbling into a job procuring women for Nick Montana, ‘the Henry Ford of the sex trade.’. . .A rollicking examination of one of the country’s most sensational hostesses.”
Publisher’s Weekly, *starred review*

“A vividly detailed social history of Manhattan’s netherworld, peopled by gangsters and bootleggers, bookies and racketeers, corrupt policemen and politicians, and a seemingly endless stream of ‘working girls.’. . . An animated, entertaining history.” 
Kirkus Reviews

“Debby Applegate infuses her profile of the (in)famous Jazz Age madam Polly Adler with a precision and vitality that resurrect the Manhattan of a century ago in all its manic glory. Fleeing the pogroms that swept across Eastern Europe prior to WWI, the 13 year-old Adler arrived at Ellis Island completely alone. Enduring rape, beatings, sweatshop drudgery only to be ostracized as a ‘fallen woman’, Adler remained unswervingly determined to grab her piece of Di Goldine Medina [the Golden Land]. Over every step of Adler’s journey to wealth and notoriety, Applegate convincingly evokes the atmosphere and complexities of wildly diverse milieus from muddy shtetls to the raucous pleasures of Coney Island. Above all, Applegate captures lurid excesses of Prohibition-Era Broadway, a place where crime lords were celebrities, brownstones hosted brothels and every cop was on the take. Through her dynamic prose, Applegate accomplishes the most difficult task facing a historian – bringing the past close without ever relinquishing its strange wonder.”
— Robert Anasi, author of The Gloves: A Boxing Chronicle and The Last Bohemia: Scenes from the Life of Williamsburg, Brooklyn

–Robert Anasi, author of The Gloves: A Boxing Chronicle and The Last Bohemia: Scenes from the Life of Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Praise for The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher

“Beautifully written…An exceptionally thorough and thoughtful account of a spectacular career that helped shape and reflect national preoccupations before, during and after the Civil War.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Excellent…Applegate, a Ph.D. in American studies from Yale, tells this grand story with aplomb, intelligence and a sure feel for historical context…Applegate has produced a biography worthy of its subject. ”
— Michael Kazin in the New York Times Book Review

“For readers seeking the roots of the popular religion and popular culture of our own time, Applegate’s resurrection of Henry Ward Beecher is an excellent place to begin.”
— Jon Meacham in The Washington Post

“Henry Ward Beecher was a phenomenon: the scion of an amazing family, the most renowned American preacher of his day, an anti-slavery stalwart — and the main protagonist in one of the most sensational sex scandals of the Victorian era.  If you thought that the personalities and machinations surrounding the Clinton impeachment scandal were interesting, you will find the Beecher exposé riveting.  More important, Debby Applegate has vividly brought Beecher and his entire era to life, in all of their piety, idealism, pomposity, and pride.  I recommend her book highly to lovers of imposing historical figures and their tangled stories.”
— Sean Wilentz, winner of the Bancroft Prize for The Rise of American Democracy

“Debby Applegate’s The Most Famous Man in America is a brilliantly written, judicious, monumental biography of Henry Ward Beecher.  The amount of new research material she unearthed is stunning.  Chalk it up as a classic.”
— Douglas Brinkley, presidential biographer and author of American Moonshot

“A wonderful portrait of a charismatic preacher with a deeply flawed private life, this biography vividly conveys the color and contradictions of 19th century America.  With a sure grasp of history, penetrating insights into religion, and many marvelous turns of phrase, Applegate brings to life a time that uncannily prefigures our own.”
— William Taubman, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Khrushchev

“Debby Applegate brings to life 19th-century America’s most influential preacher, who emerges in this full-blooded portrait as a fascinating tangle of all-too-human traits.  Drawing off an impressive body of research, the author expertly weaves together biography and history in a riveting narrative that reads like a page-turning novel.”
— David S. Reynolds, author of the Lincoln Prize-winning biography, Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times. 

“A lively narrative of 19th-century religion, power, passion, and politics, as well as a perceptive study of the elusive preacher who rode them to the top.”
— Joan Hedrick, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Harriet Beecher Stowe

“The title is not misleading.  Thoroughly researched, passionately written, and richly detailed, this book is the biography of America’s greatest nineteenth-century preacher, Henry Ward Beecher.  Through Applegate’s discerning eye, the moral strengths and sexual vulnerabilities of the ‘most famous man in America’ come clearly into view.  In the process, Applegate tells the larger story of nineteenth-century America’s religious transition from a Puritan and theocratic past to a ‘modern’ liberal orthodoxy premised on happiness, love, and the banishment of original sin.  Applegate’s biography is must reading for serious nonfiction readers of American religion, politics, and culture in Victorian America.”
— Harry S. Stout, Jonathan Edwards Professor of American Religious History, Yale University, author of Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War