The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age


Product Details

$28.99  $26.96
Union Square & Co.
Publish Date
5.91 X 9.13 X 1.42 inches | 1.45 pounds

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About the Author

Michael Wolraich is the author of the critically acclaimed Unreasonable Men (2014) and Blowing Smoke (2010). His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, the Daily Beast, New York magazine, Reuters, and CNN, and he is the founder and editor of Wolraich grew up in Iowa and graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts before falling in love with New York City, where he has lived since 2000.


"The 1931 murder of 'Broadway Butterfly' Vivian Gordon exposed an explosive story of graft, corruption and entrapment that went all the way to the top of the state. Wolraich brings a journalist's eye and a novelist's elegance to this story of Jazz Age New York."--New York Times (Editor's Choice Suggested Reading)

"Propulsive. . . . Unlike the sensationalist reporters of the era, Wolraich manages to handle even the seediest of underworlds with reportorial spareness and elegance, treating his material more as a nonfiction political thriller than a true-crime whodunit. . . . The book also provides a fascinating portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. . . . The Gordon murder and Seabury hearings might have long since faded from public memory, but their prism into corruption and ruthless opportunism remains ever relevant."--New York Times

"This engrossing true crime tale from journalist Wolraich . . . examines mobsters and misconduct in 1930s Manhattan through the case of murdered actor Vivian Gordon. . . . Wolraich does a sterling job spinning the investigation into a portrait of wider New York society, all while keeping the pages turning as quickly as in any top-shelf mystery novel. Fans of Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City will be enthralled."--Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)

"With a concise voice schooled by years of reporting, Wolraich describes how the Tammany Hall empire of power began to teeter when Vivian Gordon was found strangled by the side of the road in Van Cortlandt Park . . . . In this meticulously drawn account of the crusade against unscrupulous characters deeply embedded in the halls of power, The Bishop and the Butterfly shares a glimpse into a fight for decency and fairness that continues to this day."--BookPage (Starred Review)

"The Bishop and the Butterfly reads like a cross between a whodunnit and a political exposé. Both stories provide plenty of suspects, false leads, and rabbit trails, but unraveling one holds the key to unraveling the other."--New York Journal of Books

"It was an unlikely David-and-Goliath battle, one which historian and journalist Wolraich presents in a massively researched chronicle of fraud and vice that is as relevant today as it was a century ago."--Booklist

"The Bishop and the Butterfly is an engrossing work of narrative non-fiction, eloquently told and deeply researched. Wolraich's love of New York City comes through especially in his lyrical and vivid depictions of the places in which the story takes place."-- Untapped New York

"An absorbing history of the downfall of New York City's Tammany Hall political machine. . . . There's a sense throughout the book that the world doesn't work so differently today and that we could be just one splashy murder away from a similar comeuppance."--Star Tribune

"A first-class murder mystery, unfolding addictively through its twists and crooked turns. But it's also a remarkable portrait of New York during the Prohibition Era, alive with speakeasies and forbidden cocktails, crime and corruption, the perfect setting for evil to thrive and heroes to emerge undaunted."
--Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

"A real-life murder mystery that proves that fact is stranger than fiction. [It] starts with a tip-of-the-iceberg murder and ends with the sinking of an era. Michael Wolraich is a remarkably good writer who delivers history, alive and well, to the modern reader."
--Nelson DeMille, New York Times bestselling author

"The true crime tale of a woman obsessed with revenge against the crooked cop who put her behind bars, whose unsolved murder brought down New York City's mayor and propelled Franklin D. Roosevelt into the White House. With impeccable research, evocative details, and an extraordinary cast of characters, Michael Wolraich exposes the ugly underbelly of the Jazz Age."
--Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age

"Vivian Gordon was a 'small forgotten thread in the glorious tapestry of New York City, ' until Michael Wolraich trained his investigator's eye and writer's pen on her story. In meticulous, delicious detail, Wolraich paints a rich portrait of a teetering city, and the invisible--until now--woman who pushed it over the brink. Wolraich has a gift for language, a talent for reporting, and a detective's eye for mystery. Vivian Gordon and the jazz age live again in his prose."
--Sarah Maslin Nir, author, journalist, two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize

"In this meticulously drawn account of the crusade against unscrupulous characters deeply embedded in the halls of power, The Bishop and the Butterfly shares a glimpse into a fight for decency and fairness that continues to this day."--BookPage

"Wolraich has resurrected social-butterfly Gordon and the story of her improbable impact on New York's Jazz Age corruption and vice in The Bishop and the Butterfly, a true-crime tale that reads like a novel. . . . The book expertly chronicles the drip-by-drip dismantling of the political machine at the hands of Seabury and his staff."--Washington Independent Review of Books

"The Bishop and the Butterfly delves into the life of poor Vivian Gordon and the lengthy investigation that exposed New York's corrupt justice system."--Denver Post (Recommendation)

"Wolraich hasn't merely written a lurid urban tale of jazz molls, dirty cops and crooked politicians. His story--which contains all that--matters more. It depicts that unrepeatable moment when New York's underworld reached up from the shadows and changed the course of the city's history."
--Alan Feuer, journalist and author of El Jefe: The Stalking of Chapo Guzman

"Rare is the book that is both a rip-roaring yarn and also [a] deeply researched social history, but Wolraich more than pulls it off here. This is a book that can be read in a great big gulp--the story of New York in the Jazz Age and how the murder of a lady of the New York night helped bring down the most powerful political machine America has ever known and elect Franklin Roosevelt in the process. Surely one of the great New York City books in many years."
--David Freedlander, journalist and author of The AOC Generation: How Millennials Are Seizing Power and Rewriting the Rules of American Politics

"It would be easy to write Vivian Gordon as a villain. She was a flawed person--sometimes a victim, often a menace. But in his insightful and deeply researched account of her death and its aftermath, Michael Wolraich resists that urge and does the hard work of distilling meaning from her chaotic life. In his account, her faults are a reflection of New York City's failings, and her traumas are a small portion of the human cost of political corruption. The Bishop & the Butterfly is both a true crime tale and a political thriller, but in its sum it's a grander and more ambitious thing than either of those constituent parts--a parable about the treacly appeal of wealth and influence and power, and the ever-present need to remain vigilant against our leaders' worst instincts."
--Colin Asher, author of Never a Lovely so Real: The Life and Work of Nelson Algren