Chicago, History, Reviews

Review: Pierce, A History of Chicago

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The Chicago Tribune published an article in Sunday’s edition praising the return of a Chicago classic, Bessie Louise Pierce’s A History of Chicago. Though long out of print, all three volumes of Pierce’s landmark story of the birth and evolution of one of America’s greatest cities are now available from the Press in paperback. Staff reporter Patrick T. Reardon writes for the Tribune:

Bessie Louise Pierce, born in 1888, lived life her own way. And Chicago is better for that.
Never married, she devoted herself to scholarship, first in the field of education as an Iowa high school teacher and professor at the University of Iowa. Then, in midlife, she moved to the University of Chicago where she wrote A History of Chicago, the definitive account of the city’s first years.
That magisterial, three-volume history, begun in 1929 and completed in 1957, has been a touchstone ever since for anyone writing about early Chicago. It was also a pioneering work in academia, the first scholarly study of a large American city.…
“It’s wonderful these books are back in print,” says Carl Smith, a professor of English and American Studies at Northwestern University and author of three books on Chicago, including The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City. “I refer to [the set] constantly, repeatedly. It’s as good a source as there is of the evolution of the political texture of Chicago.”

Reardon’s article also cites the praise of Ann Durkin Keating, co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Chicago saying: “Pierce’s books ‘were used extensively for fact-checking [in the decade-long preparation of the encyclopedia]. I can’t think of an instance of anything she provided us being inaccurate.'”
In addition to the article Sunday’s edition of the Tribune also offers several excerpts from Pierce’s work.
You can find out more about all three volumes on our website:
A History of Chicago, Volume I: The Beginning of a City 1673-1848
A History of Chicago, Volume II: From Town to City 1848-1871
A History of Chicago, Volume III: The Rise of a Modern City, 1871-1893