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American Rambler with Colin Woodward

Jun 26, 2021

Writer and podcaster David Hill is the author of The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Spring's, America's Forgotten Capital of Vice. Originally from Arkansas, he moved to New York to work as a union organizer but moved back to his hometown for a year to write the book.

One of the notches in the Bible Belt, Arkansas has a colorful history that does not always conform to its 21st century conservative reputation. Hot Springs is the wildest of Arkansas cities and was once where celebrities such as Al Capone and Babe Ruth spent their free time. Even though gambling was technically illegal in Arkansas, it was tolerated in Hot Springs for decades. By the early 1960s, the city was in its heyday and could boast of five million visitors a year. For a time, it looked like Hot Springs might eclipse Las Vegas as the gambling capital of America.

But it didn't happen. Fate might have played a part, but the city also suffered a series of bad decisions and had to bend to outside political forces that rendered Hot Springs a shell of its former self by the 1980s. But as David tells Colin, the city is making a comeback. And Hot Springs, while unique, is an American story about the decline and rise of historic places across the country.

David talks not just about his book, but also his days as a philosophy student at UT-Austin, his desire to write on the NBA, and why it's sometimes better to pursue unusual topics in order to get an agent's attention. David also has a podcast, Gamblers, available on Spotify.