Books: The Great Washed Way

The Devil's Playground traces Times Square's journey from naughty to nasty to squeaky clean

To begin with, Times Square is not a square. It's actually more of a triangle, one created over the years by the convergence of Broadway, Seventh Avenue and every primal impulse--sex, power, greed, vanity, ambition--known to man. Or woman. Or, in these days of the sanitized 42nd Street, Mickey Mouse.

You might say that through history Times Square has been a cyclotron of social change, a place where sex and liquor and talent all spun around to produce some truly phosphorescent elements of the national disposition. That's the history that James Traub tells in The Devil's Playground: A Century of...