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The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America's Forgotten Capital of Vice

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The incredible true story of America's original—and forgotten—capital of vice Back in the days before Vegas was big, when the Mob was at its peak and neon lights were but a glimmer on the horizon, a little Southern town styled itself as a premier destination for the American leisure class. Hot Springs, Arkansas was home to healing waters, Art Deco splendor, and America’s or The incredible true story of America's original—and forgotten—capital of vice Back in the days before Vegas was big, when the Mob was at its peak and neon lights were but a glimmer on the horizon, a little Southern town styled itself as a premier destination for the American leisure class. Hot Springs, Arkansas was home to healing waters, Art Deco splendor, and America’s original national park—as well as horse racing, nearly a dozen illegal casinos, countless backrooms and brothels, and some of the country’s most bald-faced criminals. Gangsters, gamblers, and gamines: all once flocked to America’s forgotten capital of vice, a place where small-town hustlers and bigtime high-rollers could make their fortunes, and hide from the law. The Vapors is the extraordinary story of three individuals—spanning the golden decades of Hot Springs, from the 1930s through the 1960s—and the lavish casino whose spectacular rise and fall would bring them together before blowing them apart. Hazel Hill was still a young girl when legendary mobster Owney Madden rolled into town in his convertible, fresh off a crime spree in New York. He quickly established himself as the gentleman Godfather of Hot Springs, cutting barroom deals and buying stakes in the clubs at which Hazel made her living—and drank away her sorrows. Owney’s protégé was Dane Harris, the son of a Cherokee bootlegger who rose through the town’s ranks to become Boss Gambler. It was his idea to build The Vapors, a pleasure palace more spectacular than any the town had ever seen, and an establishment to rival anything on the Vegas Strip or Broadway in sophistication and supercharged glamour. In this riveting work of forgotten history, native Arkansan David Hill plots the trajectory of everything from organized crime to America’s fraught racial past, examining how a town synonymous with white gangsters supported a burgeoning black middle class. He reveals how the louche underbelly of the South was also home to veterans hospitals and baseball’s spring training grounds, giving rise to everyone from Babe Ruth to President Bill Clinton. Infused with the sights and sounds of America’s entertainment heyday—jazz orchestras and auctioneers, slot machines and suited comedians—The Vapors is an arresting glimpse into a bygone era of American vice.


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The incredible true story of America's original—and forgotten—capital of vice Back in the days before Vegas was big, when the Mob was at its peak and neon lights were but a glimmer on the horizon, a little Southern town styled itself as a premier destination for the American leisure class. Hot Springs, Arkansas was home to healing waters, Art Deco splendor, and America’s or The incredible true story of America's original—and forgotten—capital of vice Back in the days before Vegas was big, when the Mob was at its peak and neon lights were but a glimmer on the horizon, a little Southern town styled itself as a premier destination for the American leisure class. Hot Springs, Arkansas was home to healing waters, Art Deco splendor, and America’s original national park—as well as horse racing, nearly a dozen illegal casinos, countless backrooms and brothels, and some of the country’s most bald-faced criminals. Gangsters, gamblers, and gamines: all once flocked to America’s forgotten capital of vice, a place where small-town hustlers and bigtime high-rollers could make their fortunes, and hide from the law. The Vapors is the extraordinary story of three individuals—spanning the golden decades of Hot Springs, from the 1930s through the 1960s—and the lavish casino whose spectacular rise and fall would bring them together before blowing them apart. Hazel Hill was still a young girl when legendary mobster Owney Madden rolled into town in his convertible, fresh off a crime spree in New York. He quickly established himself as the gentleman Godfather of Hot Springs, cutting barroom deals and buying stakes in the clubs at which Hazel made her living—and drank away her sorrows. Owney’s protégé was Dane Harris, the son of a Cherokee bootlegger who rose through the town’s ranks to become Boss Gambler. It was his idea to build The Vapors, a pleasure palace more spectacular than any the town had ever seen, and an establishment to rival anything on the Vegas Strip or Broadway in sophistication and supercharged glamour. In this riveting work of forgotten history, native Arkansan David Hill plots the trajectory of everything from organized crime to America’s fraught racial past, examining how a town synonymous with white gangsters supported a burgeoning black middle class. He reveals how the louche underbelly of the South was also home to veterans hospitals and baseball’s spring training grounds, giving rise to everyone from Babe Ruth to President Bill Clinton. Infused with the sights and sounds of America’s entertainment heyday—jazz orchestras and auctioneers, slot machines and suited comedians—The Vapors is an arresting glimpse into a bygone era of American vice.

30 review for The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America's Forgotten Capital of Vice

  1. 4 out of 5

    Madeline

    The whole idea of Hot Springs—a small, free-wheeling gambling town in the midst of conservative Arkansas (where gambling was illegal)—fascinated me. Hill tells this story through the lens of a few 'key' players in Hot Springs history—Owney Madden, an ex-New York City mobster, Dane Harris, who Owney takes under his wing and becomes the boss gambler in Hot Springs, and Hazel Hill, the author's grandmother, who serves to represent what life was like for the everyday inhabitants of Hot Springs. The The whole idea of Hot Springs—a small, free-wheeling gambling town in the midst of conservative Arkansas (where gambling was illegal)—fascinated me. Hill tells this story through the lens of a few 'key' players in Hot Springs history—Owney Madden, an ex-New York City mobster, Dane Harris, who Owney takes under his wing and becomes the boss gambler in Hot Springs, and Hazel Hill, the author's grandmother, who serves to represent what life was like for the everyday inhabitants of Hot Springs. The novel is chronological, beginning in the 1930s when Hazel and Owney wound up in Hot Springs, and following their narrative thread (and looping in Dane) as the decades pass. We also learn a bit more about Hill's father and uncles, who were Hazel's children. While I appreciated this perspective, I wish there had been more research into Hot Springs Black residents. Hill mentions that Hot Springs was relatively tolerant of their Black residents (lmao for the time.. segregation was still publicly practiced, both in business and housing). I would have appreciated learning more about some of the prominent Black figures in Hot Springs, as it was clear they held a lot of influence, especially politically. Hill goes into the depths of politically maneuvering that had to be done to keep gambling running in Hot Springs, and the votes of the Black residents made a big impact in these power plays. It would have been great to highlights some of the important figures and learn a bit more about them. Even so, this is quite an interesting book. So much had to be done by Owney and Dane to keep gambling running, from electing local officials who would look the other way, to bribing the governor and even Congressional representatives to look the other way. And, as the subtitle suggests, the national mob kept trying to get involved, and it was wild to read about their attempts to get involved in Hot Springs, especially as Las Vegas was in the midst of being constructed. The competition between Las Vegas and Hot Springs was fascinating to read about, especially in the beginning, as Las Vegas was being literally constructed out of nothing and no one thought much of it. This is a great piece of historical non-fiction with lots of interesting tidbits, and a strong overarching narrative. If you're at all interested in any of the subjects mentioned in the subtitle, definitely give this one a try! Thanks to FSG for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dax

    No real complaints with this one, it just didn't have any qualities that stood out to me. Solid writing, solid research, and interesting enough to keep me coming back, but with no sense of urgency. I appreciated the author's efforts to bring some personalization to the book by including his family's experience in Hot Springs, but I found Hazel's account to be low on intrigue. If one had to identify the book's strong suit, I would praise Hill's ability to provide the reader with a glimpse into ho No real complaints with this one, it just didn't have any qualities that stood out to me. Solid writing, solid research, and interesting enough to keep me coming back, but with no sense of urgency. I appreciated the author's efforts to bring some personalization to the book by including his family's experience in Hot Springs, but I found Hazel's account to be low on intrigue. If one had to identify the book's strong suit, I would praise Hill's ability to provide the reader with a glimpse into how the local and state political machines operated in those days. The corruption in those days was a little less discrete than it is today. Although one can debate on that as well. A pretty good book but I can't say people should rush out to read it. Really dig the cover though. Low three stars.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I picked this book up because I grew up in Hot Springs and was curious about this part of Hot Springs's past. I was vaguely aware that there had been mob connections, but I didn't know much about the details. It was an interesting story about a time when the town rivaled Las Vegas and corruption was everywhere. He used his own family's experience during this period to contrast the life lived by those running the casinos. It was interesting to read about places I know and how different they were I picked this book up because I grew up in Hot Springs and was curious about this part of Hot Springs's past. I was vaguely aware that there had been mob connections, but I didn't know much about the details. It was an interesting story about a time when the town rivaled Las Vegas and corruption was everywhere. He used his own family's experience during this period to contrast the life lived by those running the casinos. It was interesting to read about places I know and how different they were in the past. Like other reviewers, I think more information about the Black community in Hot Springs would have been very interesting. The details that were in the book were really fascinating, and I would have loved to read more. I received a copy of this book from netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette (Again)

    3.5 stars No, this is not a book about people who enjoy e-cigarettes.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jackie

    I knew nothing about Hot Springs, Arkansas prior to picking up this book, which is shocking because I’m a sucker for mob stories. I like the way the author told the story by focusing on a couple of main characters who lived through the time period discussed, and he showed how each was involved in or impacted by the lifestyle and the effect it had on other areas of their lives. The story appeared to be an amalgamation of a lot of anecdotes, so some things weren’t very clear and there isn’t a stro I knew nothing about Hot Springs, Arkansas prior to picking up this book, which is shocking because I’m a sucker for mob stories. I like the way the author told the story by focusing on a couple of main characters who lived through the time period discussed, and he showed how each was involved in or impacted by the lifestyle and the effect it had on other areas of their lives. The story appeared to be an amalgamation of a lot of anecdotes, so some things weren’t very clear and there isn’t a strong narrative to the book, but it’s a good story to dip in and out of. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in American mob stories. Bill Clinton makes a brief appearance but not enough to justify reading just for that.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Brin-Jonathan Butler

    Fascinating book extremely well-told.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    Loved the parallel story of the author's family trying to get by in Hot Springs. Hazel and the boys were the real people living real lives amidst the history and the high-rolling insanity. And I think the central story taught me once and for all how much power the mob had in this country at one time--it's kind of jaw-dropping despite all the movies we've all seen. Dane felt like a missed opportunity in terms of a character. On the page he felt like an outline of a man. Owney was better written, Loved the parallel story of the author's family trying to get by in Hot Springs. Hazel and the boys were the real people living real lives amidst the history and the high-rolling insanity. And I think the central story taught me once and for all how much power the mob had in this country at one time--it's kind of jaw-dropping despite all the movies we've all seen. Dane felt like a missed opportunity in terms of a character. On the page he felt like an outline of a man. Owney was better written, but his story just wasn't as interesting as Dane's; he was just some old mobster. I had a lot of trouble keeping track of all the other main players in the gambling racket--they weren't even outlines, just names on paper. There was clearly so much impressive research done for this book, but sometimes it felt like a litany of summarizing paragraphs. Worth reading, learned a lot, story could have been told better.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mac

    Very much wish I had read this before we went to Hot Springs, which still ranks as one of the oddest towns I've ever visited in every sense of the word. Good stuff. Very much wish I had read this before we went to Hot Springs, which still ranks as one of the oddest towns I've ever visited in every sense of the word. Good stuff.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tara

    I just finished this amazing book about the days of gambling in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It's nonfiction but reads like a fiction story. If I wasn't aware of the gambling and mob history, I might easily believe this is fiction because the true stories in this book are what you see from Hollywood. The book is more than just about gambling, it's about living, greed, corruption, and the culture of the time. I just finished this amazing book about the days of gambling in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It's nonfiction but reads like a fiction story. If I wasn't aware of the gambling and mob history, I might easily believe this is fiction because the true stories in this book are what you see from Hollywood. The book is more than just about gambling, it's about living, greed, corruption, and the culture of the time.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Macke

    the unknown history of a little-known town has its interesting points and its gee-whiz moments but in the end, the characters just seem to be dropped into the middle of this gambling story and, other than reminding you that life is full of hard luck, you never really know why they're there the unknown history of a little-known town has its interesting points and its gee-whiz moments but in the end, the characters just seem to be dropped into the middle of this gambling story and, other than reminding you that life is full of hard luck, you never really know why they're there

  11. 4 out of 5

    Eric Reid

    Really entertaining and informative non-fiction book that reads like pulp detective fiction. Anyone interested in gambling, crime, and politics should give this book a read. Highly recommend.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Annarella

    I could use a long series of adjectives but I want to cut it short: this is a great story, well written and gripping. I didn't know anything about Hot Spring and was fascinated by the story and the well rounded characters. The author is a talented storyteller and this story kept me hooked till the last page. I can't wait to read another book by this author. An excellent book, highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine. I could use a long series of adjectives but I want to cut it short: this is a great story, well written and gripping. I didn't know anything about Hot Spring and was fascinated by the story and the well rounded characters. The author is a talented storyteller and this story kept me hooked till the last page. I can't wait to read another book by this author. An excellent book, highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sammy Williams

    The Vapors tackles the history of gambling and the mob in Hot Springs, from the 1930s through the 1960s. The subject matter of the book is extremely interesting, especially since Hot Springs is a town I visit often. Hill adds a lot of depth to the stories by including tales of his grandmother and father, and how they related to what was going on at the time. The only downside to the book is that he seemed to want to use all the information he gathered, whether it really added to the story or not. The Vapors tackles the history of gambling and the mob in Hot Springs, from the 1930s through the 1960s. The subject matter of the book is extremely interesting, especially since Hot Springs is a town I visit often. Hill adds a lot of depth to the stories by including tales of his grandmother and father, and how they related to what was going on at the time. The only downside to the book is that he seemed to want to use all the information he gathered, whether it really added to the story or not. Removing some of these dead end stories could have helped the flow of the book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Phillip Allen

    My cousin David does a splendid job telling Hot Spring's story. I learned a lot about my birth city. My cousin David does a splendid job telling Hot Spring's story. I learned a lot about my birth city.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Griffin

    THE VAPORS, written by Dave Hill, is the true story of how illegal gambling came and went in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and how the author’s family lived through the years 1931-1968. The Vapors club was a late edition to the buildup of casinos, opening in 1960. Dean Harris, who started in bootlegging and was now the “boss gambler” in Hot Springs, built it to be a showcase of gambling, dining, and entertainment. He had the stars of the day performing: the Andrews Sisters, Pearl Bailey, Tony Bennett, a THE VAPORS, written by Dave Hill, is the true story of how illegal gambling came and went in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and how the author’s family lived through the years 1931-1968. The Vapors club was a late edition to the buildup of casinos, opening in 1960. Dean Harris, who started in bootlegging and was now the “boss gambler” in Hot Springs, built it to be a showcase of gambling, dining, and entertainment. He had the stars of the day performing: the Andrews Sisters, Pearl Bailey, Tony Bennett, and Ray Charles were among dozens of big-time celebrities putting on shows. The details of the behind the scenes shenanigans is fascinating. Even though the Federal government was shutting down illegal gambling across the United States, Hot Springs was wide open and never seemed to court major trouble. At least not anything they couldn’t bounce back from. Why? Because most of Arkansas’ politicians were in the pockets of the “boss gambler”. From chapter Owney MARCH-JULY 1961: [Senator] McClellen was feeling the heat, but Owney and Dean did all they could to keep the senator happy, from buying Mrs. McClellan a brand new Buick to ordering fifteen thousand copies of McClellen’s book, Crime Without Punishment. Funny thing about Senator McClellan’s book, it’s all about him helping to weed out the illegal casinos. There’s even a picture of him examining a deck of marked cards. Now we know he was taking bribes the whole time! In a few years the mobs from Chicago, New York, and New Orleans, (or maybe it was someone local?) turned more violent with bombings of buildings and cars. The lawmen finally broke things up for good. Hill almost makes you want to root for the, well, criminals, with all the danger and excitement. There is another story going on at the same time, weaving in between the chapters of the high life. It’s his family’s story. Not a real happy tale, lots of alcohol and child neglect, working at the horse races or waitressing at a diner. The change back and forth between the chapters isn’t so bad. Hill’s writing makes both stories interesting. All of this Hot Springs history was new to me and I really enjoyed learning about it. Recommended for Arkansas history buffs.

  16. 5 out of 5

    A Reader's Heaven

    (I received a free copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.) Back in the days before Vegas was big, when the Mob was at its peak and neon lights were but a glimmer on the horizon, a little Southern town styled itself as a premier destination for the American leisure class. Hot Springs, Arkansas was home to healing waters, Art Deco splendor, and America’s original national park—as well as horse racing, nearly a dozen illegal casinos, countless backrooms and brothels, and (I received a free copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.) Back in the days before Vegas was big, when the Mob was at its peak and neon lights were but a glimmer on the horizon, a little Southern town styled itself as a premier destination for the American leisure class. Hot Springs, Arkansas was home to healing waters, Art Deco splendor, and America’s original national park—as well as horse racing, nearly a dozen illegal casinos, countless backrooms and brothels, and some of the country’s most bald-faced criminals. Gangsters, gamblers, and gamines: all once flocked to America’s forgotten capital of vice, a place where small-town hustlers and bigtime high-rollers could make their fortunes, and hide from the law. The Vapors is the extraordinary story of three individuals—spanning the golden decades of Hot Springs, from the 1930s through the 1960s—and the lavish casino whose spectacular rise and fall would bring them together before blowing them apart. This was an enjoyable read. I knew nothing at all about Hot Springs - in fact, I know very little about Arkansas in general. I certainly know a lot more now! The best thing about this book is that the author didn't try for too many "characters" - really, we focus on three individuals who bring the story from the early days in the 1930's through to the fall of the 60's. It was easy to keep the story firmly at the front of my brain as sometimes history writers tend to think that cramming as many people into the narrative shows how much research they have done. This condensed "cast" works perfectly for this story. Really, there isn't a lot more to tell but to say if you have an interest in those days in the South; in organized crime; or in well-written works of US history, then I have no trouble recommending this one!! Paul ARH

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joey Nedland

    I really wanted to like this book more than I did. The historical narrative of Hot Springs, an erstwhile gambling Mecca in the heart of the bible belt, has plenty of interesting characters and sagas to detail, all while painting a picture of a time in American life that couldn't feel more foreign. Hill does a good job of weaving in his own family's history in with those of the gambling bosses that ran the town into ruin in the mid-1960's. That said, he focuses quite a bit on the seemingly hundre I really wanted to like this book more than I did. The historical narrative of Hot Springs, an erstwhile gambling Mecca in the heart of the bible belt, has plenty of interesting characters and sagas to detail, all while painting a picture of a time in American life that couldn't feel more foreign. Hill does a good job of weaving in his own family's history in with those of the gambling bosses that ran the town into ruin in the mid-1960's. That said, he focuses quite a bit on the seemingly hundreds of names of those involved in the town, with biographical details and asides, and not enough on a consistent narrative that felt like it contained a logical throughline. I had to flip back many times to understand whose first name he was referencing, and wait a few pages to understand how important a character truly was to the broader story. Got lost a bit too much to enjoy it thoroughly in that way, but still, a book that I don't regret spending the time reading.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mallory Nickels

    I was a bit disappointed by this book. I personally just couldn’t connect with the writing style. Reading it you definitely feel how the author gathered information from many different sources, and the way all this various information is put together feels piecemeal and choppy to me. I noticed other (positive) reviews mentioned having similar thoughts. I think I might have enjoyed more of a focus on how the mob presence affected author’s family. The chapters that focused on Hazel felt more like I was a bit disappointed by this book. I personally just couldn’t connect with the writing style. Reading it you definitely feel how the author gathered information from many different sources, and the way all this various information is put together feels piecemeal and choppy to me. I noticed other (positive) reviews mentioned having similar thoughts. I think I might have enjoyed more of a focus on how the mob presence affected author’s family. The chapters that focused on Hazel felt more like a cohesive story to me and I really enjoyed reading them.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Billy

    I really like it when the old folks in my family tell me stories from days past. Even when they talk about tough stuff, it is in a light manner like “dope” for drugs or “messing around “ as a stand in for unfaithfulness. Dave Hill takes his own family’s stories and the stories of Hot Springs heroes and villains and makes them family stories too. He brings tons of research to back up the stories and newsworthy events from Hot Springs and gambling’s past. Do yourself a favor and listen to the fami I really like it when the old folks in my family tell me stories from days past. Even when they talk about tough stuff, it is in a light manner like “dope” for drugs or “messing around “ as a stand in for unfaithfulness. Dave Hill takes his own family’s stories and the stories of Hot Springs heroes and villains and makes them family stories too. He brings tons of research to back up the stories and newsworthy events from Hot Springs and gambling’s past. Do yourself a favor and listen to the family stories from a not so old folk about the history of illegal gambling in the spa city

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jo Ann

    David Hill has written a fascinating book about Hot Springs, AR in the 30's, 40's, 50's, and 60's - from the Mafia involvement, citizens of this small, unique town, religion, racial injustice, politics, and his own family. Whether he's writing about Governor Faubus, The Smothers Brothers, gangsters, violence, love, Mickey Rooney, Bill and Virginia Clinton, or his grandmother, it's a wild and interesting ride! David Hill has written a fascinating book about Hot Springs, AR in the 30's, 40's, 50's, and 60's - from the Mafia involvement, citizens of this small, unique town, religion, racial injustice, politics, and his own family. Whether he's writing about Governor Faubus, The Smothers Brothers, gangsters, violence, love, Mickey Rooney, Bill and Virginia Clinton, or his grandmother, it's a wild and interesting ride!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Meaghan

    Mostly a history, with a dash of memoir thrown in, David Hill recounts the history of the gambling and corruption that built Hot Springs through the lens of his grandmother and father’s lives. She loved to drink and dance at the clubs and found occasional work as a schill at the card tables. She had a slew of terrible men in her life and despite her neglect of them, her sons managed to break the cycle of impoverished life in a casino town. These days, when someone mentions a gambling mecca, you t Mostly a history, with a dash of memoir thrown in, David Hill recounts the history of the gambling and corruption that built Hot Springs through the lens of his grandmother and father’s lives. She loved to drink and dance at the clubs and found occasional work as a schill at the card tables. She had a slew of terrible men in her life and despite her neglect of them, her sons managed to break the cycle of impoverished life in a casino town. These days, when someone mentions a gambling mecca, you think of Monte Carlo or Macau or Las Vegas. Swanky hotels, loud casinos, crystal chandeliers. Maybe you think of headline entertainment and lavish stage productions. Maybe you think of all-you-can-eat buffets and gourmet restaurants. The idea that a gambling club offer ways to attract a wholesome clientele started in a small town in Arkansas. The waters of Hot Springs were revered for their healing properties dating back to Native American legend. Even Joliet took a dip during his explorations for France in the early 1600s. After America made the Louisiana Purchase, and Arkansas became a territory, U.S. Congress declared the springs to be a federally protected area in 1832. It remains part of the National Park Service today. Please read my full review at https://mwgerard.com/review-the-vapors/

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sam Jefferies

    The main character of The Wire isn’t Jimmy McNulty, it’s the city of Baltimore, on display in all its gritty glory. The main character of The Vapors is Hot Springs, Arkansas, a Bible Belt anomaly fighting desperately for a place among the heavyweight gambling meccas of Havana and Las Vegas. David Hill seamlessly stitches together the personal histories of gangster Owney Madden, local gambling boss Dane Harris, and Hill’s grandmother, Hazel Hill. The reader is left with a visceral companion in mi The main character of The Wire isn’t Jimmy McNulty, it’s the city of Baltimore, on display in all its gritty glory. The main character of The Vapors is Hot Springs, Arkansas, a Bible Belt anomaly fighting desperately for a place among the heavyweight gambling meccas of Havana and Las Vegas. David Hill seamlessly stitches together the personal histories of gangster Owney Madden, local gambling boss Dane Harris, and Hill’s grandmother, Hazel Hill. The reader is left with a visceral companion in mid-century Hot Springs, peering around the pharmacy counter for prescription whiskey even after the end of Prohibition, checking chalkboards displaying racehorse odds when walking through the doors of Arkansas casinos, and watching the wiggle of dice for the telltale sign of a loaded pair. This book makes you feel like you’re there, with all five senses and the added pull of heartstrings on a regular basis. Hot Springs may be a vapor version of its once mighty self; David Hill has saved everything worth saving for posterity.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Bruner

    I have spent a ton of time in Hot Springs and never had a clue about ANY of this. What a great story, and unbelievable that it all happened, how much has changed since, and so on. A must-read for any Arkansan.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dan Seitz

    A fascinating look at a vice capital that nearly was, and the personal stories and politics around it. Only slightly marred, to my mind, by the lack of closure on a few folks, but that doesn't detract from what a lightning read it is. A fascinating look at a vice capital that nearly was, and the personal stories and politics around it. Only slightly marred, to my mind, by the lack of closure on a few folks, but that doesn't detract from what a lightning read it is.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Blake E.

    I’m from central Arkansas and always knew a little about the gangster and gambling history of the Spa City but this provided so much more insight. I loved the personal story about the author’s family - particularly the arc of Hazel’s life that seemed to track the rise and fall of Hot Springs. The author’s thorough research and good writing style made this a winner for me.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tanya Allen

    I love true stories that read like fiction. I knew nothing about the history of Hot Springs... but now I do, and I'm glad I found this book. I love true stories that read like fiction. I knew nothing about the history of Hot Springs... but now I do, and I'm glad I found this book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    Juicy, compulsively readable Americana.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Brenda

    The last time I read a book where I had to keep reminding myself that it was a true story was Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Welcome to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Mix yourself a Roman Coke, prop your feet up on the porch rail, and let David Hill keep you enthralled with a tale of men, money, and mayhem with a side of politics and religion thrown in for good measure. The life of Hill's Grandmother Hazel parallels the rise and fall of the gambling industry and offers an unflinching look at o The last time I read a book where I had to keep reminding myself that it was a true story was Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Welcome to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Mix yourself a Roman Coke, prop your feet up on the porch rail, and let David Hill keep you enthralled with a tale of men, money, and mayhem with a side of politics and religion thrown in for good measure. The life of Hill's Grandmother Hazel parallels the rise and fall of the gambling industry and offers an unflinching look at one woman's attempt to forge a better life for herself in a world where men called all the shots. Hazel, like the NY Mob, is determined to gain a foothold in the Hot Springs gaming scene, but it's easier said than done. Decades of machinations and political back-and-forth finally come to a head in the mid 1960's and all are left to take stock of their wins and losses as the slot machines go quiet and attention turns to the new oasis rising up in the Nevada desert.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    Super interesting. Do not give mind to the smug reviewer who said the author should have been more “discrete.”

  30. 5 out of 5

    Arthur Serratelli

    I love this book. I stayed at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs Arkansas to attend a conference in the not-too-distant past, and the hotel manager gave us a "historical tour" of the building. We saw the "Al Capone" suite. We heard about the secret, Al Capone "getaway tunnel," into which the caravan of cars in his entourage could speed away from the property, to avoid a bunko squad raid, by getting out of the tunnel, onto the highway a safe distance away, and high tail it to Chicago. But those c I love this book. I stayed at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs Arkansas to attend a conference in the not-too-distant past, and the hotel manager gave us a "historical tour" of the building. We saw the "Al Capone" suite. We heard about the secret, Al Capone "getaway tunnel," into which the caravan of cars in his entourage could speed away from the property, to avoid a bunko squad raid, by getting out of the tunnel, onto the highway a safe distance away, and high tail it to Chicago. But those charming stories were JUST THE TIP of the ICEBERG! Below the waterline, this is what existed, and what I learned from this book -- Hot Springs Arkansas was once THE leading gambling resort in America. Las Vegas set its sights on Hot Springs as the competitor (after Castro took Cuba and shut down the Havana Casino operations of the U.S. mob). Hot Springs was king until mob money flowed to Vegas. And the holier-than-thou, anti-vice crusaders shut Hot Springs down in the mid-1960s bunko squad raids. The local gambling economy -- estimated to generate $250 million to $1 billion a year -- was crushed, and the town went bust (Casinos closed, jobs were lost, local business shut down). Why don't moralizing, holy roller, self-righteous, Jesus-spoutin, nay-sayers mind their own business for the common good? "Sin" is in the eye of the beholder, and a true libertarian would just leave others alone. A church lady's "vice" is a libertarian's "fun time." The churches, the cynical politicians, and other opportunists, rained on the Hot Springs parade. But, there were good times! Bootlegging! Prostitution! Illegal Gambling! World Class Casinos! Horse Racing, with Governor Orval Faubus in the bleachers! Off Track Betting with Bookmakers! Who knew in Hot Springs colorful characters like Ray Charles, Henny Youngman, Jerry Van Dyke, Ella Fitzgerald, Vito Genovese, Bobby Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover, Sam Giancana, Mitzi Gaynor, B.B. King, Bil Clinton, mom Virginia Clinton, Rocky Marciano, Meyer Lansky, Mickey Rooney, and even the Rockefeller family, had a part to play? Who knew? Told through the eyes of local families who lived the life, the ups and the downs, of Hot Springs, this book is charming, fascinating, quaint, fun, and UNIQUELY Arkansas. Loved it.

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