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Washington, DC, gleams with stately columns and neoclassical memorials today, but for decades it was one of the worst excuses for a capital city the world had ever seen. Unfilled swamps, filthy canals, and rutted horse trails littered its landscape. Beneath pestilential air, the town’s muddy roads led to a stumpy, half-finished Washington Monument and the wasteland of the national Mall. Boarding houses and slums lined the streets, and opposing factions of volunteer firefighters battled one another in gang warfare. Legendary madams entertained clients from all stations of society, duelists killed one another and mobs ran riot, and political bosses dispatched hooligans and thugs to conduct the nation’s affairs. Featuring a rich cast of characters from radical journalists and political demagogues to corrupt policemen and insidious slave traders, Empire of Mud unearths and untangles the roots of our capital’s beginnings and explores how the city was tainted from the start, its turbulent history setting a precedent for the dishonesty and mismanagement that have prompted generations to look suspiciously on the deeds of Washington politicians ever since.