Books for the News

The Daleys of Chicago, as told by the Biographer of Chicago

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For most of the last half century, the city of Chicago has been ruled by a man named Daley: first, from 1955 to his death in 1977, Richard J. Daley, and currently Richard M. Daley, who has reigned since 1989. With a collective 42 years of mayorship between them, father and son have created what some would call a Daley dynasty in the city of big shoulders.
Historian and city biographer Dominic Pacyga (his most recent book, Chicago: A Biography was published in October) recently presented a talk called “The Daleys of Chicago: A Study in Political Power” at the Chicago History Museum. C-SPAN was there, and the video of Pacyga’s seminar can be found here.
If Pacyga’s discussion of city politics leaves you wanting more about the city on the make, make sure to check out Chicago. Pacyga traces the city’s storied past, from the explorations of Joliet and Marquette in 1673 to the new wave of urban pioneers today. The city’s great industrialists, reformers, and politicians—and, indeed, the many not-so-great and downright notorious—animate this book, from Al Capone and Jane Addams to Mayor Richard J. Daley and President Barack Obama. But what distinguishes this book from the many others on the subject is its author’s uncommon ability to illuminate the lives of Chicago’s ordinary people. Born and raised in Back of the Yards on Chicago’s southwest side, Pacyga spent his college years working at the Union Stock Yards. Chicago, therefore, gives voice to the city’s steelyard workers and kill floor operators, mapping the neighborhoods distinguished not by Louis Sullivan masterworks, but by bungalows and corner taverns. And their stories come alive through an extensive selection of evocative illustrations culled from major institutional archives, local historical societies, and the author’s personal collection.
Filled with the city’s one-of-a-kind characters and all of its defining moments, Chicago: A Biography is as big and boisterous as its namesake—and as ambitious as the men and women who built it.