• Madam

  • The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age
  • By: Debby Applegate
  • Narrated by: Erin Bennett
  • Length: 20 hrs and 25 mins
  • 4.2 out of 5 stars (156 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The compulsively listenable and sometimes jaw-dropping story of the life of a notorious madam who played hostess to every gangster, politician, writer, sports star, and Cafe Society swell worth knowing, and who as much as any single figure helped make the '20s roar - from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America.

“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.... A treat for fiction and nonfiction fans alike." (Abbott Kahler, New York Times best-selling author (as Karen Abbott) of The Ghosts of Eden Park)

Simply put: Everybody came to Polly's. Pearl "Polly" Adler (1900-1962) was a diminutive dynamo whose Manhattan brothels in the Roaring '20s became places not just for men to have the company of women but were key gathering places where the culturati and celebrity elite mingled with high society and with violent figures of the underworld - and had a good time doing it. 

As a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe, Polly Adler's life is a classic American story of success and assimilation that starts like a novel by Henry Roth and then turns into a glittering real-life tale straight out of F. Scott Fitzgerald. She declared her ambition to be "the best goddam madam in all America" and succeeded wildly. Debby Applegate uses Polly's story as the key to unpacking just what made the 1920s the appallingly corrupt yet glamorous and transformational era that it was and how the collision between high and low is the unique ingredient that fuels American culture.

©2021 Debby Applegate (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Pearl to Polly, shtetl child to savvy New Yorker, Brooklyn corset factory girl to Manhattan’s most notorious brothel owner: Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Debby Applegate, tells a fast-paced tale of radical, willful transformation. . .Replete with accounts of Polly’s many court battles, newspaper headlines, mobster dealings and society gossip, Madam is a breathless tale told through extraordinary research.” --The New York Times Book Review

"A biography that is also a story of America bursting into the modern age, with new roles for women, new rules for couples, and parties that flowed into rooms down the hall.” --CBS Sunday Morning

“[Madam] is. . .a hugely digressive book in the best possible way: You meet a lot of gangsters and high rollers in Adler’s New York, and they cross paths with novelists, entertainers, professional boxers, and now and then a mayor or a Rockefeller.” --Curbed

What listeners say about Madam

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Debby Applegate is amazing!

This book is a masterful undertaking. I was very moved by the fact that a little girl was sent to another country and left to fend for herself. Holly Adler was truly a survivor and a historical icon. Debby is a class act!

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thumbs up

a story that needed to be told to help understand women's roles as players in evolution of American society. extremely well written and narrated

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Thrilling ride through roaring 20s—Page-turner!

Polly Adler is Horacio Alger of the sexy underworld. Her trials and tribulations make for a breathtaking romp through three decades of shifting American attitudes about sex, women in business, and the immigrant experience. Beautifully read. Applegate’s got a great ear for story & dialogue.

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Story of 20 through the eyes of a madam

I was hesitant at first as I never heard of this madam . But her story on NYT and then cbs Sunday got me interested. And I enjoyed all the history of this biography. So many big names but beyond the skin trade this book is an eye opening on chat happen in the -st half 20th century in NEW YORK And the early start of the entertainment industry high broadway and Hollywood.

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Loved Madam!

Kept my attention from start to finish. This book was worth the wait. Suspenseful and engaging.

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Colorful Woman centered historical fiction

Polly Adler‘s spunk, fortitude, determination, loyalty, strength and ingenuity were rife in this very well-written, interesting saga which brought to life the roaring era of America’s history and showed a side of it that we don’t often see. It is a down to earth revealing of human nature and the personalities of different famous people in our history and how what they did that no one knew they did has helped form us as the people we are (albeit a “seedy side” or not).

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Enjoyable, Educational & Entertaining

I now know a bit better about the kind of society that my folks lived through in the twenties and prohibition.
It was very interesting to learn about a different view of many of the big names of that era.

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History Unknown

great revelation on another piece of the jazz age for which little is known to many

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Great historical read!

Filled with surprise and delight. Highlights the flavor and mind site of an interesting era.

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A great read for any lovers of the 20s

Loved every word. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in NYC

1 person found this helpful